The effect of COVID-19 on diversity and inclusion progress

Leading underrepresented talent specialist, MyKindaFuture, explores the effect of COVID-19 on the diversity and inclusion agenda.

Tobin Murphy-Coles Head of Commercial at MyKindaFuture offers his insights into what companies can do now to ensure they are able to engage and support the best and brightest diverse talent when they emerge from the pandemic.

The short-term impact

It is undeniable that COVID-19 is having an impact on the progress diversity and inclusion is making within UK businesses. However, this is rarely a conscious decision on the part of employers.

For many businesses, SMEs and start-ups especially, there is no choice but to go into ‘survival mode’ and do everything it takes to simply get through this uncertain period without collapsing.

For these companies, anything that might be considered ‘nice to have’ is being jettisoned, with senior stakeholders unable to prioritise anything that isn’t absolutely key to the business, including diversity and inclusion strategies.

Bigger companies may have been further ahead with their diversity and inclusion policies before the pandemic began. For some, this will mean that a commitment to diversity and inclusion has already become a part of the business’s DNA and therefore is unlikely to change.

However, for many large enterprises, diversity and inclusion will still be a building project and not yet ingrained within the business’s core operations. For these companies, it is likely that diversity policies will be deprioritised until the organisation feels able to invest the resources required to create a truly impactful diversity and inclusion strategy.

This will inevitably have an impact on many talented individuals from a huge range of diverse backgrounds, with data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies suggesting that it is women and young people that are set to be the worst hit. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that these individuals are more likely to work in a sector that has been forced to suspend trade. People from these groups are also more likely to work in lower-paid roles, putting them at greater risk.

Even for businesses that are still focussed on attracting diverse individuals, there remains a challenge of engagement. For all minority groups, whether this is women, young people, individuals from BAME backgrounds, or those with disabilities, the most effective method of engagement is face-to-face contact.

What’s more, once these groups have become engaged, the logical next step would be for a business to bring them in for work experience, offering them a taste of the business and equipping them with the on-the-job experience and confidence they need in order to succeed.

With COVID-19 bringing a stop to all face-to-face engagement, businesses who are used to operating in this way will feel as though all of the tactics that they usually use to engage and win the trust of underrepresented and undervalued diversity groups have been stopped.

The long-term impact

The long-term effect of this halt in progress remains unknown and depends entirely on how long businesses feel the economic impact of COVID-19 for. If the worst of the pandemic is over and we begin to see a semblance of normality before the end of the summer, I expect that many businesses will be able to pick up where they left off quickly, and this will simply have been a short term pause in activity.

However, if the effects of coronavirus continue to be felt by businesses into the winter months, the impact is likely to be much more damaging, resulting in a need to reset the diversity agenda in the UK completely.

Many businesses will be in severe financial difficulties, meaning that it will take them longer to recover and, therefore, longer to prioritise anything that isn’t considered key to their survival. Diversity and inclusion will remain low on their priority list for longer, and it will take several years for this to be built back up.

The solution

However, this doesn’t have to be the case, and there is plenty that businesses can do now to engage with talented, underrepresented individuals during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Technology is key to this and, just as businesses have adapted their operations, communications and commercial offerings to survive during this period, engaging talent can also function effectively and efficiently via digital platforms. For example, MyKindaFuture’s online engagement platform, Connectr 2.0, has been devised specifically to allow businesses to attract, hire and retain talented individuals from diverse backgrounds by equipping them with the skills and confidence they need to succeed.

By providing access to one-on-one mentoring services, learning resources and forums online, the programme can be rolled out on scale without draining valuable resources, whilst allowing prospective employees the freedom to access the content on-demand, at a time that suits them.

In addition to adopting new, digital ways of working, companies will also need to consider how their employer brand is being communicated during this time. It is important for businesses to maintain two narratives – an internal narrative that focusses on survival, and an external narrative that conveys an ongoing commitment to diverse talent. If managed correctly, there is no reason why these two messages cannot run in tandem with each other.

Some businesses are already doing this and have adopted digital engagement tactics with great success. For example, our client Dentsu Aegis Network has adapted its school engagement programme, which inspires students to consider a career in advertising, to ensure that students and teachers are still able to access the invaluable learning resources digitally. Supported by MyKindaFuture, the company has launched an online challenge that can be completed from home, along with video content designed to support the student’s learning.

It is the businesses that are able to adapt quickly and intelligently and adopt these digital strategies that will emerge from the pandemic thriving and in good stead to hire valuable diverse talent as soon as they are ready to. What’s more, if UK businesses are successful in moving towards a new, digital way of working across all of their business functions, this could have a hugely beneficial long-term impact on diverse talent for whom certain roles were previously inaccessible due to the inflexibility of the office environment and working hours.

For more information about MyKindaFuture’s online engagement platform, Connectr 2.0, visit
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