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Diversity and inclusion POST COVID: We are in this together!



I committed to having 100 VIRTUAL coffees with leaders and diversity and inclusion experts from around the world. I have been having some very interesting conversations. My question is:

What does the pivot in diversity and inclusion start to look like post Covid 19?

This is the second article in a series of thoughts from those conversations, my research and my hands on experience in supporting leaders to be more inclusive during lockdown.

In times of crisis and after, this conscious commitment to harnessing the potential of diversity and inclusion becomes more important than ever. In times of extreme stress, the standard human reaction is to shut down and close off, not open up. If leaders are to cultivate diversity and inclusion within their organisations, they need to be even more wary than usual of contracted, isolating thinking – in themselves and in their teams.

One of the strongest messages to emerge from social distancing and isolation is that humans are at their very best when they’re connected and engaged with each other. Diversity and inclusion are the ingredients of deep and meaningful interactions.

This is not fluffy stuff. The business outcomes of a diverse and inclusive workplace culture go beyond feeling good about ourselves. What we’re talking about is greater competitiveness, better results, and ultimately delivering key business objectives, time and time again.

THE IMPACT OF A CRISIS IS FELT DIFFERENTLY BY DIFFERENT GROUPS FOR PEOPLE.

For example, the 2008 recession was more immediately felt by men in terms of job losses, yet the prolonged cuts to public spending meant lower wages for the female dominated public sector and a reduction in policies and financial support such as childcare for working mothers. Past pandemics, such as Ebola and Zika also show different impacts for different demographics, the hardest hit often being women who tend to be the ones caring for the sick, at a greater risk to themselves, and lower income households who have worse living conditions and reduced access to medical care.

Recognising that although ‘we are all in this together’, we are not experiencing it in the same way, is the first step in helping leaders create inclusive workplace cultures that are conscious of the crisis impact on different employee groups.

Behaviours that marginalize employees can go even more unnoticed when employees are working remotely. Employees can quickly feel that they are not being heard, are isolated from resources, or unable to do the same quality or amount of work while working from home.

INCLUSIVE MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING SUPPORT has become URGENT.

Leaders and managers must be more adept at spotting the signs of stress – their own and others – especially at this time of unrest.

Everyone has mental health issues! Despite our best efforts to talk more openly about our mental health, there is still a level of stigma attached to it. Some fear it will be perceived as a weakness, others feel it might hold them back professionally, and many believe that they will be unfairly judged as a result of disclosing information about their mental health. If the current situation has taught us anything, it’s that none of us are completely safe from the stress and anxiety that a global pandemic brings, whether you’re concerned about loved ones, worried about navigating an ever-changing situation, or trying to stay safe as a vulnerable person. Many are finding themselves in unimaginable circumstances, experiencing loneliness as a result of social distancing, being impacted by redundancies, or facing significant income challenges for those who are self-employed. Fortunately, there are many helpful wellbeing resources and tips available during these difficult times and practising self-care is now more important than ever.

TAKING THE LESSONS OF COVID FORWARD TO OUR ‘NEW NORMAL’

Due to global lockdowns, organisations have had no choice but to rapidly adapt their business model, investing in technology to support remote working, connectivity with their customers and employees. With broad recognition that jobs can be performed just as efficiently outside a nine hour regular office timetable, we have an opportunity to transform our global working culture, utilising the flexible and remote working structures many of us now have in place. By doing this, not only can we step up progress in diversity and inclusion, building a more creative workforce that can weather the storm, we can also create a better life-work balance.

Because of our inability to truly embrace flexibility, organisations have missed out on employee productivity and attracting top talent by shutting out large groups of people, particularly women who are more likely to work part-time because they still shoulder most of the domestic and caring duties in the family. Similarly, people with disabilities and those suffering from or recovering from physical and mental illness represent a largely untapped talent pool that could greatly benefit from flexible and remote working opportunities.

Flexible work and working from home have long been seen as either necessary or desired by women who often shoulder the disproportionate burden of family care. But working from home, once a luxury for some, is now a necessity. Historically, the women (and men) who did flexible work or working from home were often perceived as less committed to their careers. Will this gender-biased assumption now be put to rest when everyone, from the CEO to the administrative assistant, is working from home?

What will responsibility look like at home as some people are laid off and others working from home long past the eight-hour workday? Most people don’t have a home office elegantly framing themselves for a video call, with books and fine art as a halo around them. But we can glimpse into their lives and see that men have generally always played a smaller role in childcare and family obligations. Do stay-at-home dads or male partners learn what their significant other juggles daily? Can there be a long-lasting shift that delegates obligations in a more equitable way?

Communities are actively coming together to help the most vulnerable; we have seen the advantages of working remotely and virtually – and the reductions in pollution. We can use this global shockwave to drive positive change profoundly by maintaining positive behaviours, the best agile work patterns, and new perspectives on what is possible. Let’s make the best of them our new habits. Our new normal!

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