The effect of lockdown on diversity in the workplace

Although progress has been made in respect of diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, here at Thrive we believe that there is still significant room for improvement and much more that can be done to reach the end goal: equal representation across the workforce. We’ve won multiple awards for our diversity and inclusion initiatives and will continue to strive for truly inclusive workplaces.

One question that seems to be repeatedly arising out of the situation surrounding COVID-19 is “what effect this will have on diversity and inclusion in the workplace?” Many of us are wondering whether this will advance or hinder the progression that has been made so far.  It seems many initiatives have been put on hold and training in this regard has stopped.

Advancing Diversity and Inclusion – Will COVID-19 have a Positive Impact?

With many employees now being forced to work from home unless their presence in work is absolutely necessary, employers have had no choice but to adapt to this fundamental change, even where they previously insisted it wouldn’t be possible.

Most businesses have demonstrated they are able to adapt successfully by introducing increased flexible working, which in turn provides more opportunities for those with childcare issues or disabilities to remain at work.

Before lockdown was implemented and prior to the need for such crucial arrangements, it was less likely that employers would be open to the idea of flexible working for their employees. However, as employers have been forced into a situation where employees have to work from home, employers may be more open-minded and continue to innovate in the future with regard to taking on employees who would not typically fit into the traditional, office-based, 9 to 5 role.

We believe that this could present newfound opportunities for many individuals, particularly disabled employees and working parents. Many of the adaptations that have been introduced by employers, such as remote and flexible working, are also those that are often sought by employees with disabilities and also those trying to balance child care. Where implemented, such adaptations ensure that those with disabilities can fully engage with their jobs, they are more productive and generally happier at work. As a result of the situation we all find ourselves in, many businesses have proven they are able to adapt accordingly in introducing these adjustments. Therefore, there should be no reason for disregarding these measures once COVID-19 lockdown is lifted, or at least not without suitable reasoning and cause.

The crisis has also demonstrated to some employers exactly what a significant difficulty childcare can present to parents, and will therefore potentially encourage those employers to be more flexible in the future. By adopting an innovative and flexible approach companies will attract a more diverse workforce.

Companies have been forced to adapt to these new ways of working in order to survive, flexible working has become a business imperative and is no longer just an option or tick in the box. In going forward, we can see employee’s will be driving this change. In the first instance, organisations may have the power, but employee’s will consciously choose who they want to work for, including organisations with a strong culture of inclusivity, being mindful of how they are valued within an organisation.

One of our solicitors here at Thrive has experienced first-hand the difficulties in trying to find employers who are open to employing individuals in need of a more flexible working life. You can read her blog all about it here.

It’s Ramadan at the moment, recognising flexibility at this time for those employees who are fasting during lock down is also really important. One of our team shares her challenges here in lockdown and last year we discussed some ideas for employers to consider around Ramadan.

Sadly, many organisations question what diversity and inclusion really means and why they ought to embrace this tool and where would they even start. It is an enormous issue to address.

It is very likely that we will never return to “normal”, where employees are willing to work in an office from Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, enduring busy public transport at peak hours. For lack of a better phrase, the genie has been “let out of the bottle” and employees will increasingly expect better flexible working arrangements as they know they can do it and it works! If employers gain a reputation for not being supportive of such initiatives, their ability to recruit employees may be affected and they will lose a skilled and diverse workforce.

Could the situation have a negative impact?

COVID-19 is likely to have an enormous effect on the global economy, and will lead to increased financial pressures on many businesses. Where a large organisation requires funding for their diversity and inclusion initiatives, shareholders may be reluctant to fund these programs during times of economic uncertainty, potentially limiting access to certain professions.

Furthermore, technology has become a vital part of everyday working life. Many individuals are now working from home on their computers and keeping in touch with colleagues over the phone or via services such as Skype, Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Therefore, for those individuals who may not be familiar with technology or working with computers, this could be a setback; some employers may be more likely to hire employees who are IT proficient, as they may not have funding available to train those who are not as familiar with technology.

Diversity and inclusion remote training

Many companies, may be using the ability to train staff remotely whilst on furlough or home working, to up skill them at this time so that they are ready to go back to whatever the new “normal” will be.

What do you think? Will the crisis be the trigger for a diversity revolution, or will the situation go back to normal, or will (ultimately) the crisis damage the progress we were making towards diversity in certain sectors.

Five key areas to reset your inclusion journey

  1. Take stock
    It is vital to take stock of your own diversity and inclusion journey within your organisation. Consider points like how do you make yourself attract to those are working for you? Think about rewards, how are you rewarding your staff members and is this accessible to all or only for those who are of a more senior position?
  2. Raising awareness
    Particular days throughout the year which help promote inclusion and diversity e.g. mental health awareness week (in May) international women’s day, Pride etc. It is important to make sure you are communicating such events and not merely being involved for a ‘trend’.
  3. Inspire & Evolve
    There is no set person who will tick all the boxes, but each person will be helpful in inspiring you and your team with something. We also have the gift to give inspiration to others, this is something that we all have the ability to do. There have been many sources of inspiration that we have all experienced and recognised during this pandemic. Start thinking about how you are going to reintroduce your people back into work. How can you become an ambassador and ally for others?
  4. Build for the future
    This could be noted as breaking traditions. Does working from home become the new normal? For some, yes. For others, this may be a hybrid solution. Where are we going to find new talent and retain current talent, as employees will have questioned who they work for during these times and will consider shifting roles and workplaces.
  5. Embed
    It is great to have inclusion initiatives but often these aren’t followed through. When diversity and inclusion is part of your values and culture, it is successfully implemented and is authentic. It is not the role of one but the coming together of many, make sure everyone is involved at every level and what role can they provide?

Monitor progress

Celebrate success, as this road is long this is not a sprint. Now is a perfect time to rest and reevaluate where you are at the moment.

If you have any concerns about discrimination in the workplace, our helpline remains open at coronavirus@thrivelaw.co.uk or you can get in touch through our website if you need support with diversity and inclusion training, policies or any general advice we are here to help.

By the Thrive Tribe

Anything within this article should not be taken as legal advice. Any information provided will be general advice and for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action. If you wish to obtain specific advice to your situation and your decisions, please contact us and we will thereafter be able to advise.

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