Over the years, we have written extensively on our HRC blog about diversity and inclusion and the part that HR can play in ensuring our workplaces reflect the society we live in. But, this was all contingent on the fact that employers could get out and reach minority or under-represented groups and demonstrate the inclusive nature of their business.
Since March of last year, many businesses have been unable to do this. We have – essentially – been forced into unusual, prolonged working circumstances that we could have never predicted. And, while HR teams have been working all hours to aid with decisions on furlough, redundancy, outplacement and health and safety (to name a few), this has left less time to dedicate to issues such as diversity and inclusion.
Here are just some of the ways – both positive and negative – that Covid-19 has had an impact on diversity and inclusion.
Mental health awareness
Because so many of us have struggled with the sight of the same four walls for almost a year, lockdown has encouraged a lot more conversations amongst colleagues about mental health and coping mechanisms. Whilst the stigma hasn’t been erased altogether, many businesses have reported more open conversations and greater understanding. Many people are even doing their own research to understand why they are feeling a certain way. Businesses, including HRC, have invested in mental health apps, training and resources to help their employees cope.
Prior to the pandemic, an employee may only have had access to a computer in their office or workplace. Covid-19 has highlighted that so many people – across the UK – either do not have access to the physical hardware or decent internet. With home-schooling in full force, some parents are forced to choose between their jobs or their children’s education. This could mean that many people are missing out on opportunities, either in their current role or a prospective one, simply because they do not have the means to access either a laptop or the internet.
Flexibility for working parents
Right now, many parents are balancing home-schooling with a full-time job. Perhaps they are a key worker or taking extended leave (such as furlough) is not financially viable. But many business owners are in the same boat, meaning they understand what their employees are going through! Some companies are ditching the traditional 9 -5 in favour of a far more flexible approach – as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter what hours it gets done in. Other schemes, such as flexible (or part-time) furlough are also of huge benefit to working parents.
Neurodiversity and isolation
Adults who are neurodiverse are more likely to react poorly to a change of routine or a sudden loss of normality. Studies have also shown that those who are neurodiverse – adults with autism, ADHD or learning difficulties – are more likely to feel lonely and isolated during ongoing lockdowns. And, whilst many employers have opened up discussions about mental health, they may not know how to combat persistent anxieties in their neurodiverse employees who are really missing the buzz and routine of the office.
There are no more arguments – we can all work from anywhere (provided we have the right kit). So, in theory, this should open up a wider talent pool to businesses across the UK. It also means that potential employees who – owing to physical disability – could not previously access your workplace safely in person, can now join the team remotely from the comfort of their own homes without worrying about things such as public transport or access to bathrooms. This is a massive step forward towards inclusion in the workplace.
Despite everything that the various lockdowns have thrown at businesses, it is really important that HR teams keep up the momentum when it comes to the diversity and inclusion agenda.
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