13 May What has coronavirus taught us about Equality Diversity and Inclusion
Pandemics inevitably highlight equality diversity and inclusion issues that society, and therefore businesses, face. The coronavirus pandemic is no different, and there is potential for these issues to be aggravated, ignored, or addressed. An article in the guardian recently pointed out that “the lesson from the aftermath of the banking crash is that ministers were too slow to realise austerity was affecting women differently from men; there’s no excuse for making the same mistake this time.”
Medical professionals have asserted that Covid-19 does not discriminate; it is possible for the virus to infect anyone. However, it is imperative that employers recognise the asymmetrical impact that the pandemic may have upon different employees. Those thought to be most negatively affected are:
Young people (16-25 years olds) are most likely to be affected by redundancies, as employers look to cut hours and staff numbers. Is it predicted that youth unemployment could rise to 2 million if the economy does not recover quickly from the impact of Coronavirus. Organisations like Youth Employment UK are asking companies to consider the repercussions of Covid-19 when recruiting staff in future. Some businesses, such as BT are removing academic requirements for their next cohort of graduates whose’ exams and assessments will have been disrupted by the pandemic.
We know from the news that coronavirus has more adverse effects on BAME communities. Statistically, black and minority ethnic people make up 14% of the population, but studies have shown they account for a disproportionate 35% of all patients in intensive care. The reason for these shocking statistics are disputed, but point toward the result of social and economic inequality. BAME people are overrepresented in deprived, and overcrowded housing, and are also more likely to have frontline healthcare/ key worker jobs. This impact has now led to a government enquiry.
Men are thought to be more adversely affected if they contract the illness, but it is women who are likely to worse suffer the effects of the economic downtown caused by the outbreak of the virus. The UN has warned specifically that the pandemic will exacerbate inequalities for women. It is of concern that the steps that have been made toward equality for women in the workplace stand to regress because of the effects of coronavirus. For example, corporations are this year exempt from publishing their gender pay gap reports. Meaning that it will be possible to fall back into old practices and cut costs at the expense of women.
The above illustrates that groups who were already potentially disadvantaged are being disproportionally affected by the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 on a large scale. The impact of coronavirus therefore offers a widespread assessment of the EDI frameworks and strategies in each company. CEOs and HR managers should evaluate how their company has performed, learn from what they have done well, and what they need to improve on. They might asses how they are managing staff mental health and wellbeing. How they are supporting working parents. How they are addressing sick pay, furlough and redundancies.
It is somewhat understandable that in this unprecedented time, in some firms, equality diversity and inclusion is being neglected – as if an obstacle to or distraction from core business and profit making. In fact, EDI is at the centre of the solution to some issues they are currently facing. We know now that diverse teams are actually likely to be more effective, partly as they avoid groupthink, resulting in better innovation. Once as part of EDI initiatives, opportunities like working from home that have been requested by many (often by disabled employees and working parents) have now forcibly become a common practice. As a result of the pandemic we now know that for many, working from home is possible where needed.
The coronavirus pandemic highlights to us the EDI issues that are still so prevalent and creates new issues to be considered by employers. It has forced many businesses to put into mass action EDI practises that may have previously seemed only relevant to a smaller proportion of employees, and proven that they can and do work. Moreover, as we begin to transcend into a ‘new normal’, companies will need to continue to develop and adapt their EDI strategies accordingly, to benefit their operations and their workforce.
Author: Mary Ord