The importance of diversity and inclusion post COVID-19
It may be tempting for business to see diversity and inclusion as non-essential in their struggle to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. But that would be a big mistake, argues Raj Tulsiani
As societies and economies prepare for the unknowable post-COVID-19 world, it would be easy to tell ourselves that diversity and inclusion is a non-essential add-on which we can put to one side until the crisis is over. However, recent weeks have reminded us that agile and flexible approaches to work are key components of survival through a crisis. A diverse and inclusive workforce will be critical to organisational endurance and D&I will be as important, if not more so, than ever as we move from shock into emergence from the pandemic effects.
We are in this together, but we aren’t experiencing it in the same way
The impact of a slump, whether it be falling property prices, loss of income or government austerity is felt differently by different groups for people. For example, the 2008 recession was more immediately felt by men in terms of job losses, yet the prolonged cuts to public spending meant lower wages for the female dominated public sector and a reduction in policies and financial support such as childcare for working mothers. Past pandemics, such as Ebola and Zika also show different impacts for different demographics, the hardest hit often being women who tend to be the ones caring for the sick, at a greater risk to themselves, and lower income households who have worse living conditions and reduced access to medical care.
Only one month into Britain’s lockdown and we can already see a more immediate impact for particular groups in terms of job losses, child-care requirements, ability to work remotely and accessibility of medical and protective provisions.
Recent information about health worker deaths and patients in critical care has provoked questions as to whether COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting BAME people. It is important to state that currently there isn’t enough data to substantiate this but speculation behind the apparent difference in severity for BAME patients and doctors includes theories of a biological, circumstantial and behavioural nature. The latter, quite disturbingly, includes that BAME professionals are less likely to complain about a lack of sufficient personal protective equipment, due to workplace inequality and bullying. According to the head of the British Medical Association, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, “they are twice as likely not to raise concerns because of fears of recrimination”.
Recognising that although ‘we are all in this together’, we are not experiencing it in the same way, is the first step in helping leaders create inclusive workplace cultures that are conscious of the crisis impact on different employee groups.
According to a recent article by Trevor Philips “different groups in society experience social dislocation in different ways. Trauma of the kind that most countries are now experiencing has two effects. The first is to accelerate change that is already on the way. The second is to exacerbate the existing divisions in society.”
The latter can be seen already in the form of sensationalist tabloid headlines, finger pointing and blanket blaming.
The former – accelerating change – is where business leaders and HR professionals can have the greatest impact and really change the way history records our response to COVID-19.
Up till now, only 11% of jobs are currently advertised as being open to flexibility and these are most often roles in the lower pay brackets. Because of this lack of flexibility, the UK is missing out on employee productivity and attracting top talent by shutting out large groups of people, particularly women who are more likely to work part-time because they still shoulder most of the domestic and caring duties in the family. Similarly, people with disabilities and those suffering from or recovering from physical and mental illness represent a largely untapped talent pool that could greatly benefit from flexible and remote working opportunities.
Due to global lockdowns, organisations have had no choice but to rapidly adapt their business model, investing in technology to support remote working, connectivity with their customers and employees. With broad recognition that jobs can be performed just as efficiently outside a nine hour regular office timetable, we have an opportunity to transform the UK’s working culture, utilising the flexible and remote working structures many of us now have in place. By doing this, not only can we step up progress in diversity and inclusion, building a more creative workforce that can weather the storm, we can also create a better life-work balance.
Raj Tulsiani (pictured below) is leader of consultancy Green Park and author of Diversity and Inclusion for Leaders: Making a Difference with the Diversity Headhunter