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How Covid-19 has impacted diversity and inclusion at work

Over a third of employees believe that Covid-19 has delayed efforts to improve diversity and inclusion at their companies. This has disproportionately impacted marginalised groups including people of colour (POC), women, the LGBTQ+ community, and working parents, and risks undoing decades worth of progress.

But if the coronavirus outbreak has taught employers anything, it’s that a focus on diversity is crucial. As leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder explains: “In a time of great economic uncertainty, having the right voices in the boardroom is the key not only to success, but very possibly to survival. We are in a crisis — but this crisis also means opportunity.” Here, we’ll look at how the crisis has manifested itself, and just what some of those opportunities for the future could be.

Diversity & inclusion strategies are being put on hold

Before the pandemic, 14% of employees placed diversity and inclusion (D&I) in their top three HR priorities, but during the first UK lockdown, this dropped to just 5%. Researchers for the Institute for Corporate Productivity also found that, as a result of businesses having insufficient funds, 27% of companies put diversity initiatives on hold to focus on other pressing issues. Consequently, this has impacted talented individuals from diverse backgrounds, with only one in six people from these groups now feeling more supported by their employer than before the pandemic. And in a time where D&I is needed most, businesses are simply falling short.

65% of employers have at least considered the needs of these different employee groups, while 40% believe that investing in D&I can help them respond more effectively to the needs of their employees and customers in times of crisis. The global racial uprisings in 2020 also helped to raise awareness, and encouraged companies to continue with their diversity plans. Indeed, 28% of employees were offered extra support by their employer during these times.

Minority groups impacted disproportionately

POC, women, and the LGBTQ+ community have also been more vulnerable to furlough and layoffs during the pandemic. For instance, women working in hospitality, food, and retail in particular are expected to experience higher rates of unemployment due to the resulting recession. In fact. women are 1.8 times more likely than men to lose their job, while they also face challenges related to childcare, as they tend to be the primary carer, and the closure of schools is making it even harder to work. A recent McKinsey survey also revealed that women have faced a more unfair level of stress than men during the pandemic.

The same report also showed that LGBTQ+ workers are 1.4 times more likely to struggle with fair performance reviews, workload increases, and the loss of a sense of belonging in the workplace as a result of the pandemic. The pandemic has also affected those who can’t afford to miss work. Many people have argued that social distancing and working from home are privileges, with POC often employed in roles in hospitality and retail, which don’t allow for safety measures many people take for granted. When you also consider the fact many POC live in lower-income neighbourhoods, in crowded living spaces, it’s easy to see the odds stacked against them, and the stats bear this out. Over 27% of black and mixed race workers believe they have been more impacted by the pandemic than any other demographic.

Remote work excludes minority groups

Even those who are working from home are being adversely affected by the pandemic, and many are struggling with isolation and lack of social interaction, with marginalised groups bearing the brunt of it. For instance, POC tend to have fewer social connections and smaller networks than their white counterparts, and with the steep rise of remote working, the problem is only increased.

“It’s a critical issue, and there is a real risk facing diversity and inclusion in the current environment.”, Sara Prince, a partner at McKinsey told The New York Times in September 2020. “When the leader is looking for someone to take up the mantle, most of them go to the comfort zone of people who remind them of themselves. This is exacerbated by the virtual office.” These challenges could ultimately damage careers, as minorities will be left with fewer opportunities to advance.