The pandemic has pushed workplace equality to breaking point

As coronavirus continues to take its toll, Talking Talent calls organisations to bring diversity and inclusion back to the top of the business agenda

As the pandemic continues, it has wrought havoc on the business landscape – closing businesses large and small and changing workforce working styles and make-ups permanently. It has also quickly become apparent that the crisis has had – and continues to have – a disproportionate effect on certain populations. These groups include women, ethnic minorities, working parents and young employees.

When diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives are at risk of falling off the radar, Talking Talent is calling for businesses to address these inequalities and re-establish any D&I efforts that may have been disregarded or de-prioritised during the pandemic.

Reversing the COVID-19 impact on D&I

The same pattern of people losing their jobs and being financially impacted occurred in the financial crisis of 2008, where both voluntary and mandated redundancies most impacted women and working parents – but today we must be better than this.

All organisations need to think about their processes for all of their resourcing decisions in the current climate. To mitigate people being disproportionally impacted, HR functions must create watertight processes – where diverse stakeholder groups are involved in key decision-making, even where these decisions need to be made at speed.

This includes asking whether key decisions are being made by leadership alone, whether the profile of certain leaders create a majority biased ‘group think’ approach to who should stay and who should go, and questioning the role that HR professionals play in facilitating some of those processes and challenging biased assumptions and approaches. Talking Talent’s view is that HR’s role is critical in avoiding systemic bias. And the same goes for hiring decisions and key resources – HR must be involved in making those decisions and the subsequent hiring process.

Diversity and inclusion fault lines

Also, boards must recognise the fault lines between ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups that tend to be accentuated under pressure. If someone is on the periphery of decision-making, it is very difficult for them to influence the outcome. This is why minorities can often be on the wrong side of decision-making – a key reason as to why women and working parents came off second-best in the last downturn, and have been particularly impacted this year too.

Though diversity and inclusion may have fallen off or to the bottom of the business agenda, businesses simply can’t avoid or be complacent about their importance. After all, the organisations that fail to build inclusive organisational cultures and foster inclusive leadership capabilities will struggle in this climate – as well as longer-term.

Working parents and carers have had an incredibly challenging lockdown, as the recent McKinsey report testifies, with one in three women considering downsizing their careers. The data on the number of women leaving their jobs is also a testament to the impact of recent months. Within this context, business leaders need to fight hard to keep a balanced and diverse organisation that does not revert to some of the monocultures that have preceded the more modern and progressive organisations.

Pivot, restructure and remain agile

The wider business climate and context here is also important. There are a number of accelerators at play as a result of the pandemic. One of them is the need for organisations to pivot, restructure and remain agile, including, of course, in re-shaping talent and resource. There is also the acceleration towards all things digital, given the rapid shift to remote working and virtual offices.

“I would argue there is no better generation than the young, who are ‘digital natives’, to support many of the market accelerators we are observing. It will be a dangerous move to leave them out of any strategic resource re-alignment over the coming months!” comments Chris Parke, CEO at Talking Talent.

“The same goes for having a lack of ethnic minorities, women, young people and, indeed, any characteristic that would result in an organisation being unable to reflect the societies, clients, and consumers they are there to represent. This is what ultimately leads to a lack of diverse thinking.”
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