The COVID-19 Impact on Diversity and Inclusion

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HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the world, bringing entire nations to a standstill, and devastating the global economy. For many organizations, 2020 has been a real struggle with businesses closing down, making redundancies, and losing large amounts of revenue during the first six months of the year.

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The COVID-19 Impact on Diversity and Inclusion

It has certainly changed the way we live our lives. This year we have had to re-evaluate what’s important and organizations have had to find the balance between keeping afloat and looking after the wellbeing of their employees and valued customers.

It’s true that almost everyone has been affected in some way, with COVID-19 now being confirmed in as many as 188 countries. But while we’re all feeling the uncertainty, some groups have been more adversely affected than others, such as minority groups, healthcare workers, and lower-income workers.

This, coupled with a few other major events, has brought about fresh new conversations on diversity and inclusion. So as we try to navigate our way through these unprecedented times, let’s not go backwards. Instead, let’s ask what can we do to harness and nurture a culture of inclusion and celebrate diversity - particularly in the workplace.

The importance of diversity and inclusion

Before we look at what we can do, let’s first look at why we should be doing it. There is the moral obligation to ensure that we create an inclusive labor force that offers fair opportunities and safe working environments to everyone - regardless of their background, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

It’s also important for innovation. Businesses that embrace people from different backgrounds will benefit from diversity of thought, creativity, and different experiences. This is what keeps a company driving forward.

And people want to work for employers that offer fair opportunities, that are moral and respect their workforce, those that promote diversity and inclusivity. As such, it’s vital to ensure your organization has a good reputation and is able to build a strong employer brand that attracts talented professionals.

The facts about COVID-19

While most people have been impacted in some way, there were some groups that were more affected by the pandemic than others, be that as a result of their vulnerability to the virus or the higher risk of losing their job. For example, lower-income workers are 52% more likely to have lost their job or had their pay reduced because of COVID-19. Similarly, women were more likely to find themselves unemployed.

Statistics have also shown that Black people, Latinos, and other minority groups have been disproportionately affected by the virus. Not only this, but older professionals who were more at risk experienced a great deal of stigma and discrimination being seen as too vulnerable to work.

Other contributing factors

Though we are here primarily to discuss diversity and inclusion in a post-pandemic world, COVID-19 wasn't the only thing that contributed to these conversations of diversity in 2020. It would be remiss not to mention the Black Lives Matter movement, which was ignited by the death of George Floyd in May this year.

The ongoing fight for equality swept the globe with protests taking place across the world. In fact, there were 550 protests in just one day in the US, seeing this dubbed the biggest movement of its kind in American history.

What does all this mean in the business world?

Taking all these factors into account, it is clear that more needs to be done to create a culture of inclusion. So let’s start by asking what can leaders do? And we’re not just talking big names like those in government, for true diversity and inclusivity to happen, we must work from the ground up. Every employer and every business must take an inclusive approach to people management and success.

This means no longer just paying lip service to diversity, but walking the walk and putting real changes in place. They must understand and learn from the events of this year, making diversity and inclusion an integral part of all business and HR functions.

How can HR leaders support diversity and inclusion and plan for the future?

Diversity and inclusion need to be a key focus for HR professionals over the coming years. Only then can we hope to change systematic prejudices and negative attitudes to create a truly equal and diverse workforce. There are several steps that businesses can take to adapt their HR processes and start building positive, inclusive working environments. These include:

  • Ensuring that all decisions meet the legal obligations and do not discriminate against any employee.
  • More than this, organizations must go beyond the minimum of simply complying with the law and actively change their policies to ensure every individual is supported, valued, and given equal rights.
  • Ensuring inclusive approaches to hiring.
  • Examining and understanding your current people management practices to see where the main issues lie and making changes to rectify this.
  • Ensuring that any diversity initiatives and policies are fully supported by senior management.
  • Asking for feedback from employees and remembering that diversity and inclusion doesn't happen overnight, it’s an ongoing initiative.
  • Embedding diversity and inclusion into all workplace practices, in particular, ensuring line managers have a good grasp on how to contribute towards, and nurture an environment of equality.
  • Introducing new policies and procedures for dealing with harassment or discrimination.
  • Creating a friendly and trustworthy culture based on communication. That way employees will feel safe giving honest feedback or talking to their manager if they’ve faced discrimination, inequality, or any other related issues.
  • Putting a diversity policy in writing which can be circulated to all employees and should encourage equality amongst the workforce.
  • Recognizing diversity isn't enough on its own, it must go hand in hand with inclusivity

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