Maintaining Diversity in the Workplace During Lockdown

The pandemic has turned the world upside down. A result of this is the shift towards remote working. Speaking to Employment Lawyer Jodie Hill, we discuss the importance of maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace and how to do so.

How does lockdown and working from home create issues when it comes to maintaining a diverse workplace?

There are different issues for different sectors of society, but what is clear is that lockdown, for many, has disrupted and slowed down progress being made in the diverse and inclusive (D&I) space. What has caused concerns for working parents is different to what concerned, for example, the BAME community. So, the issue of resentment and misunderstanding between different sectors are likely to continue to grow, especially when businesses are putting their D&I agendas on hold due to lockdown.

Being thrust into this ‘new normal’ means employees and employers alike have had to embrace home working and flexible working, around homeschooling, for example.

Working parents, pregnant women or those with disabilities and BAME employees,  are at more high risk to COVID-19 and, therefore, are more likely to have been furloughed, meaning fewer opportunities for progression, and them feeling “behind” or “redundant” on return. For many of those who have been furloughed, we are also seeing a huge impact on their mental health, as they feel like they have lost their sense of purpose and they are feeling isolated and disengaged with uncertainty about their role on return. This can impact on progression and on integration back into the workplace.   It’s like a double hit those people and for diversity and inclusion.

The challenge with mental health, when staff are on furlough or working from home,  is that we can no longer “see” people and spot some of the common signs we would if we were in the office.

Conversely, a significant positive which is emerging from lockdown, is that home working and flexible working is effective.  This is something many working parents and employees with disabilities have longed for and have found that prior to lockdown, these working arrangements were often rejected for ‘business reasons’.  Being thrust into this ‘new normal’ means employees and employers alike have had to embrace home working and flexible working, around homeschooling, for example. If companies continue to embrace this in the future, they will inevitably attract a more diverse workforce; however, if they revert back to the old ways, they are likely to lose their diverse workforce.

Diversity and inclusion are not ‘nice to have’, it is essential to retain in order to attract a diverse workforce.

What should companies do to ensure their workplace remains diverse and inclusive when working from home – especially if companies decide to remain working remotely?

Communication is key with all staff regardless of their status.   Companies should avoid putting  D&I initiatives on hold and should continue to engage throughout the rest of the year. We saw mental health awareness week and Pride month during lockdown, as well as the BLM movement. Employers should continue to address diversity and inclusion and communicate their plans to the team; it should be at the top of their agenda now more than ever.  

Many organisations are naturally concerned over finances and state they simply ‘don’t have time’. Those organisations should remember that their workforce is the core of their business, they will undoubtedly need those people to help them recover from the difficulties caused by lockdown and right now, people will remember how you made them feel.

Diversity and inclusion are not ‘nice to have’, it is essential to retain in order to attract a diverse workforce.

Employers should communicate their current reporting requirements, which are ordinarily set out in their own policies and procedures within their staff handbook.

Businesses really need to innovate right now and engage in wellbeing and mental health risk assessments so that they fully understand the needs each employee has.  Conducting mental health and wellbeing risk assessments at this time is of paramount importance, it will focus your training and investment around wellbeing and identify what support your team actually need, especially as many businesses will continue to work remotely into 2021.

Post lockdown, and once furlough is no more, employers should continue to innovate, listen and work with their employees considering continuing flexible working and home working where possible.

Keep a “team” mindset, especially where there is a mixture of home working, furloughed and office-based staff, so that people don’t feel further isolated, and have more opportunities to talk to different people about their different concerns.

How should complaints of discrimination be reported when remote working is in place? How can workplaces ensure the same level of trust and support is on the table?

Employers should communicate their current reporting requirements, which are ordinarily set out in their own policies and procedures within their staff handbook.  This may not have changed, as often the reporting is done via email, but mindful of furlough and redundancies during lockdown the person they report to may have changed.  Employers should firstly review their internal policies and then communicate to all staff. It should be made clear what the reporting requirements are and should reiterate that all complaints will be dealt with confidentially and taken seriously.

Do you think COVID-19 will have a negative impact regarding diversity in the workplace?

I sincerely hope it will not for many organisations, as we are seeing a real sense of community and everyone working together with diversity and inclusion at the top of the agenda and employers really looking after the mental health of their workforce.

In my view, childcare issues are more obvious now and as a result, many organisations should recognise the importance of flexibility which means that working parents will benefit.

At Thrive we have always had a flexible and home working culture but for many organisations, this was a taboo topic and often outright rejected, as those working from home were seen as not pulling their weight. This stigma will soon dissipate and we will certainly see a shift in this mindset, as both employees and employers have evidence that it can work effectively. Moreover, younger and more junior employees have shown that they can be trusted to work from home without needing constant supervision.

Having a diverse and inclusive workforce is a win-win situation. Your employees feel more engaged, creative and valued; as a result, they make better decisions and naturally become better at problem-solving.

As we know, disabled people are likely to have more opportunities if there is more flexibility around where and when they work; embracing flexibility in the future will inevitably assist in creating and retaining a diverse workforce.

BLM has brought race discrimination to the forefront for many businesses too, which I hope will have a positive impact on how they address racial inequalities and discrimination at work.

However, those who struggle with technology may have been highlighted, so there could be some issues with age or disability discrimination and people feeling they are being left behind.

Redundancies are inevitable too, as flexible furlough comes to an end in October, employers will be considering who they need and what their new structures will look like. Redundancies are likely to indirectly impact on working parents, those with disabilities and generally impact on those who are most vulnerable in society.

Why is diversity in the workplace important?

Workplaces should reflect society. People with different backgrounds, cultures and experiences have different contributions which ultimately makes whatever product/service is being provided an improvement, as it is more accessible and relatable to the general public.

Having a diverse and inclusive workforce is a win-win situation. Your employees feel more engaged, creative and valued; as a result, they make better decisions and naturally become better at problem-solving.

Employers will also have a competitive advantage to attract and retain top talent.  In turn, this translates to increased profits, higher employee engagement, reduced employee turnover, it improves your company’s reputation and makes your workplace a happy place to be.

Jodie Hill

Managing Director and Solicitor

Thrive Law

www.thrivelaw.co.uk/

Jodie Hill originally trained as a barrister and cross-qualified to a solicitor. Following her own mental breakdown in 2017, she set up Thrive Law in 2018 in order to ensure everyone can Thrive in the workplace. Thrive is now multi award-winning, after being recognised for their commitment to diversity and inclusion and social mobility. Jodie is an advocate for mental health and has pushed the #OneMind campaign to ensure mental health risk assessments are mandatory in all workplaces. Jodie continues to disrupt the Employment Law and mental health sector with her thought leadership and strives for social change. She recently appeared on BBC Look North, ITV news, BBC5 live, the Guardian, the Times and the Yorkshire Post, to name a few, as an expert in this area.

 

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