As leaders and businesses continue to confront the disruption caused by the pandemic and navigate an economically and socially viable path towards the new normal, there is a risk that diversity and inclusion may now recede as a strategic business priority for many organisations. Naturally, this is driven by a focus on the most pressing business survival needs, including safety measures and productivity, as well as the physical and mental wellbeing of the employees. However, while diversity and inclusion might be at risk, they are critical for business recovery and resilience.
Diversity and inclusion matters
Unless organisations consciously focus on advancing diversity and fostering inclusion, progress will be slow during and post-Covid. A recent leadership survey indicates that 27 percent of organisations have put all or most inclusion and diversity initiatives on hold due to the pandemic.
The crisis makes jobs vulnerable and diverse talent is most at risk. Whilst there might be an increased number of job opportunities in some sectors, such as healthcare, these are likely to be offset by job losses in other sectors such as retail, hospitality, or travel. As companies adapt to the new social distancing limitations, it is highly likely that this will lead to an increase of automation trends, that are already expected to take a greater toll on women and minorities. Barriers to training and access to technology must be overcome to make job opportunities equally accessible to all, especially in the technology sector.
Furthermore, the shift to widely introduced remote working could also undermine inclusive workplace cultures. Online communication could make some staff feel uncomfortable, for example LGBTQ+ employees might not feel comfortable sharing the aspects of their home lives with their colleagues. Working from home can also be challenging for women and minorities with limited access to broadband, lack of home-office space as well as childcare and home-schooling activities.
Diverse talent opportunities
On the other hand, the shifting landscape effected by the pandemic is also presenting new opportunities, giving organisations access to a wider talent pool. Remote working might have a negative impact in some cases, but it also increases flexibility, which could play a significant role in the long term and help to retain women who are often limited by the uneven share of family duties. Working from home and avoiding the commute makes work also more accessible for people with disabilities, and gives more options to working parents, dual-career couples, and single parents.
The pandemic has also created an increased demand for older workers. Amid the loss of many jobs there has been an urgent demand for medical and technology professionals to return to work from retirement or career breaks. Whilst historically this group has been viewed by employers with scepticism, they are now recognising the strengths this pool of workers has demonstrated, such as wealth of experience, knowledge, mature perspectives and loyalty, paired with enthusiasm about returning to work.
Long term benefits
The uncertain future will require enhanced problem-solving and decision making. According to McKinsey’s research, organisations who invest in diversity and inclusion are strongly positioned in this regard, as diversity brings multiple perspectives, boosts innovation and creative problem solving. Diverse organisations are also able to create a work culture based on psychological safety where diverse talent can feel they can be themselves and feel empowered to contribute.
Research suggests that when companies invest in diversity and inclusion, they are in a better position to create more adaptive, effective teams and are more likely to recognise diversity as a competitive advantage. There is also a strong correlation between diversity and positive behaviour directly related to better organisational health, which in turn is associated with better business performance.
The survival and future growth of businesses will require strong leadership and inclusive work cultures. At Acumen we have over 21 years of experience in designing and delivering leadership development programmes that give leaders at all levels the practical tools to help solve real life challenges. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org.