COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for businesses, leaving bosses scrambling to find the best way to support their people and clients through extreme uncertainty.
Businesses are, in many cases, juggling numerous preparations, emergency measures and rapid-response steps that will impact their ability to service clients and support the wellbeing of their people.
In an attempt to alleviate some of these burderns, the Government Equalities Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission has now suspended enforcement action for companies who miss the 4 April deadline to report their gender pay gap data, effectively postponing the exercise for a year.
It’s understandable that leaders will be reassessing priorities in the current landscape. However, it’s important that diversity & inclusion doesn’t fall off the agenda more generally. At a time when people need to feel a sense of belonging and inclusion, business culture is more critical than ever.
Reporting requirements are only part of the picture; there are many other important ways in which leaders can maintain D&I efforts to safeguard the wellbeing and dynamics of their workforce.
Take the time to understand your people
The current crisis has changed the way many people work. As employees adapt to being away from their colleagues for an extended time, there is a risk that their sense of belonging and connection to company culture may reduce. Businesses need to take steps to understand the experiences of their people during this difficult time.
This will help them emerge from the crisis with a more united workforce - critical to recovering from the impact and restoring normality after a period of prolonged uncertainty.
Engaging existing employee networks within an organisation is a powerful way of ensuring diverse groups are receiving regular communications, it can also help foster a sense of community and belonging. For example, the ‘family’ community or ‘deaf & hard of hearing’ employees will have different experiences and will require different types of support.
We’re in a technologically advanced time where we can set up virtual communities, webcasts and more – this will be invaluable to making sure underrepresented groups are accessing the help they might need.
Think about how your organisation is tailoring its communications to highlight the different experiences of its staff.
Be it those with caring responsibilities, working with disabilities or mental health issues; or those living on their own, storytelling is a powerful way to connect people, to share ideas about coping strategies, and to remind the workforce of the diversity within their teams.
During this time, there is scope for people to implement proactive inclusion, informally and formally checking in with every person in their team and making sure individuals are not inadvertently left out. In doing so, it will be an opportunity to connect with people from diverse backgrounds and understand their personal challenges during this really difficult time.
For example, in addition to some of the situations already outlined, some may experience disruption in observing religious events such as Ramadan and Passover. Acknowledging a spectrum of experiences can help build a feeling of inclusivity in the virtual workplace.
Progress on D&I has been gaining momentum in recent years, driven by proactive businesses, governments and charities. Now is not the time to let those efforts slip.
As everyone adapts to a new world, being consciously inclusive is more important than ever; only by truly understanding the individual needs within their organisation will a leader be able to help everyone get through it. It’ll also leave you in a better position once the UK overcomes this crisis.
Justine Campbell is managing partner for talent at EY.
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