It’s no secret that when the pandemic hit earlier this year, existing workplace inequality was exposed – and exacerbated. Minorities, the elderly, those with physical disabilities and ill mental health, and the younger generation have all been disproportionately affected by the far-reaching consequences of lockdown, economic crisis, and isolation. BAME employees were significantly more likely to have their hours reduced, and more than twice as likely to lose their job*,whilst young people were furloughed more than any age group at 50 per cent, with online graduate job vacancies falling by 60 per cent.

Hence it is more important than ever for businesses to highlight and speak up on diversity in the
workplace. As we witness a work-at-home revolution unfold in front of our eyes, HR leaders across
the country should be tapping into new resources, technology and innovative approaches to reach a
more diverse demographic, and positively engage employees of all backgrounds.

An Indispensable Strength
Advocating and supporting women in business, who are still severely underrepresented – on average just 25 per cent fill senior roles – is only part of the problem. When speaking about diversity, every single minority or vulnerable group, from LGBTQI, BAME to those with a physical or mental disability, are all entitled to equal opportunities in the workplace.

Diversity should be viewed as a company’s source of strength and progress – more cultural
perspectives, gender balance, and equality, will bring organisational performance, motivation,
attraction of talent, and employee engagement. It is important to emphasise that high engagement
and satisfaction levels go hand in hand with reduced employee turnover and increased productivity.
Indeed, many firms have reported that both the quality of staff – and Key Performance Indicators
(KPIs) – have increased together with diversity. Businesses should be promoting a culture that it’s
good to be different, unique and yourself.

Working-At-Home can Improve Diversity
The pandemic is causing a permanent shift in the way people will be hired, onboarded and trained in the future – according to a recent PwC report, a huge 89 per cent of businesses expect most
employees to work remotely post-pandemic. And the work-at-home revolution is no longer a trend
confined to city workers. Digitally recruiting employees who are working at home is opening up the
national talent pool, enabling leaders to reach a more diverse demographic outside the small radius
of their offices – even for example in the Isle of Skye, outside of mainland UK. It is enabling people in remote, rural areas – who perhaps have financial constraints, or are cut off from infrastructure or access to urban areas – to find new employment, apprenticeship or training opportunities digitally that were once out of reach.

To further this, working at home means businesses can now recruit people who aren’t able to travel,
have disabilities, or must stay at home due to care requirements. For example mothers – who often
face discrimination in the workplace – are now able to work-at-home, and can fit in flexible shift
work as and when needed. Coronavirus is creating a new normal for women, demonstrating that no
woman’s career should be put on hold.

What Can Businesses Do?
Creating an inclusive company culture means it’s important that the little things are recognised and
communicated with staff, by celebrating diversity and employee achievements across the business.
Overall this boils down to designing, developing and delivering initiatives that make staff feel at their best, at all times.

Female leadership and training initiatives can help raise awareness on gender, and crucially develop a network of both men and women as educators and promoters of gender equality. Organisations can run campaigns that mimic the UN #HeforShe campaign, in which men are encouraged to speak up on inequality – highlighting that it is their fight too.

Initiating and delivering Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes, such as supporting local communities, domestic abuse shelters, BLM charities or health related causes, by fundraising or providing mentors, can really make a difference to these critical community services. Going into local colleges and offering apprenticeships as part of college courses can provide key experience for
disadvantaged young people.

Businesses can drive diversity and inclusion through programs and events, with guest speakers to
raise awareness, creating a welcoming and inclusive workplace. Alongside this, identifying why
particular groups are not applying for management roles, and catering specific training programs to
them can be extremely effective.

As many employees now isolate and work-at-home, businesses should be focusing on improving and driving positive mental health, through designing and positioning health and wellness programs, alongside other activities aimed at creating a positive workplace environment. Providing adequate services, whether that be through technology or extra resources, to accommodate the elderly, or certain disabilities such as poor to no eyesight, should also be the norm.

Striving for accolades such as Great Place to Work™ or Inclusive Companies Awards is a great way for businesses to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, and all the above initiatives, via their own workers. This is not just about looking good on paper, but truly making a difference to their
employees’ day-to-day working life.

Organisations need to realise just how important being human really is. Accepting people for who
they are, and having the ability to communicate effectively, build relationships, listen and learn, are
all central to improving the way employees feel about working for a business. If employers can
emphasize the importance of diversity, whilst looking after their workers’ physical, mental and
financial health – all while enjoying the process – they have cracked it.

 

* https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/covid-19-job-losses-disproportionately-hit-ethnic-minorities/
 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-54005156