COVID-19 hampers inclusion and belonging for Black employees

As businesses battle to survive the economic effects of the pandemic, D&I objectives have fallen by the wayside and this is effecting some employees more than others, says a new report

Has COVID-19 relegated D&I to the bottom rung of corporate priorities? The economic shockwaves caused by the pandemic may have caused businesses to focus on survival over internal measures, such as fostering inclusion, which means a growing number of Black employees feel they don’t have a voice.

Despite growing awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, a report by employee engagement firm Inpulse found that one in four people believed they didn’t “fit in” at work.

The report suggests businesses are doing less to drive D&I implementations than before the virus, where 33% said their company didn’t take it seriously enough in 2020. Other interesting findings relate to empowerment and authenticity, where 25% said they couldn’t be themselves in the workplace.

COVID-19 impacts inclusion and belonging for Black employees

Feelings of “belonging” were lower among those that identified as Black or Black British. More interesting still, over half of this group felt unable to voice “a contrary opinion” at work for fear of the repercussions.

These results show that inclusion, as opposed to diversity, was most negatively impacted by the shift in priorities among organisations during this time – seen in the numbers of Black respondents who felt unable to share their thoughts in the workplace. The inclusion issues among this group are especially concerning considering the growing impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on the corporate world.

Commenting on the report results, Gharry Eccles, VP UK & Australia at Nestle Cereal Partners, said: “This is not about inclusive leadership but active inclusion, where every process and every team is part of an inclusive culture.

“Senior leaders need to blend the traditional leadership qualities with vulnerability, cultural intelligence, and empathy if they are to help middle managers embrace it for their teams. It’s not easy. Taking a temperature check to understand if you’re lagging or leading is important.”

Matt Stephens, CEO and Founder of Inpulse, added: “Our research found that one in four don’t feel they fit in at work – that’s a critical issue. Whilst organisations undoubtedly made some noise during last year and some made changes, in large part nothing really changed.

“We must continue to challenge ourselves to keep talking about issues such as white privilege and latent exclusion – the more we talk and keep the issues in focus, the more chance something will happen.

“We recognise that conversations around these areas can be uncomfortable; however, we can also see from the survey that open discussion can lead to people feeling more valued, confident, and hopeful. We can’t become complacent about inclusion; we need to work hard to change hearts and minds.” 

COVID-19 and the D&I stagnation

But Inpluse isn’t the only organisation that believes the pandemic has hampered diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Job site Indeed published a report in late 2020 that found that 34% of employees believed COVID-19 had set back diversity, inclusion, and belonging improvements in their organisation.

It also found that most employees thought their organisation was taking steps to improve these points before the virus (57%) but has since shifted away from these objectives (10%). In comparison, a further 43% said employers could be doing more at this time to foster diversity.

As Eccles said, making people feel empowered to fully participate in an organisation is achieved through establishing an inclusive culture and not just through inclusive leadership. It’s cultural inclusivity that makes people, especially minority groups, remain with a business rather than a diverse workplace on its own.

This is also where allyship comes in; those with the privilege to do so should help open the floor to others who want their voice to be heard, whether during a meeting or for some other purpose.

For those with the social capital to not face discrimination at work, it’s easier to forget about or suspend D&I objectives as concerns about the pandemic take hold in business discussions. But for those who are less represented at work, it’s impossible to forget about D&I no matter what external events are taking place.
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