New research highlights the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on already disadvantaged groups including working mothers, those with disabilities and ethnic minority employees.

A new report by Accenture, a professional services group, highlights that the global pandemic has worsened pre-existing inequalities in the workplace.

One group that have experienced such difficulties are working mothers. The research highlights that working mothers have always been held back in their work, experiencing a 7 per cent pay penalty compared to their colleagues without children by the age of 42.

However, COVID-19 has exacerbated this as mothers are now spending almost two extra hours (1.9) a day on childcare. Due to this, many working mothers have had to leave their jobs in order to meet the demands of looking after their children.

A separate study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the UCL Institute for Education founds that working mothers were almost twice as likely (47 per cent) to either lose or quit their jobs. These women were also 14 per cent more likely to have been placed on furlough.

However, it is not just working mothers who have been affected. Over one in four (27 per cent) people with disabilities are facing redundancy. This figure rises to almost 40 per cent (37 per cent) for employees who are have a disability which significantly affects their ability to carry out daily activities.

Remote working has also taken a toll on a significant portion of employees with disabilities with almost a quarter (23 per cent) stating that they found working from home difficult. In comparison, only 15 per cent of non-disabled employees said the same.

Employees from an ethnic minority background also struggled with the effects of COVID-19. The report identifies the death of George Floyd in the US and the protests surrounding this as a pivotal moment for companies to address racial inequality. However, over half of ethnic minority employees (53 per cent) reported that their organisation either took no concrete action or none that the employee was aware of regarding this matter.

Less than a sixth of employers (14 per cent) issued a public statement to support the protests whilst only 13 per cent published ethnic diversity targets. Furthermore, only one in ten employers created a task force to address racial injustice in the workplace.

Finally, employees from a socially disadvantaged background also reported being less supported by employers during COVID-19. Those from ‘less affluent backgrounds’ were twice as likely (50 per cent) to be furloughed than those who were not. Even for employees from a socially disadvantaged background who were working, just over half felt supported by their employers (56 per cent) – a significant drop from the three-quarters of men (75 per cent) who felt the same.

Ultimately, the research found that if businesses could improve workplace inclusivity by just 10 per cent, this could increase UK’s GDP by up to 1.5 per cent annually – a boost of £393 billion.

To improve diversity and inclusion, the report suggests key changes must be implemented:

  • Inclusive decision making – Specifically focussing on opinions that could pre-empt actions that could hurt employees
  • Inclusive work design – Allowing all employees to gain skills, retrain and upskill
  • Inclusive workplaces – Interventions for employees who are more likely to be affected by COVID-19
  • Inclusive restructuring and talent strategies – Tapping into hidden talent pools across industries and groups who may not be in the labour market

Olly Benzecry, Managing Director for Accenture UK & Ireland, said:

No-one has been left untouched by this crisis, but the impact has been particularly hard on individuals who already suffer when it comes to inclusion. However, out of every crisis there is an opportunity for positive change. By creating a more inclusive workplace culture and allowing all employees to thrive equally, businesses can tackle some of these long-standing issues head on and make real, progressive change.

*Accenture’s report compiled research from August and September 2020 and surveyed 3,023 adults in paid employment all around the UK.