We have all had our lives disrupted to varying degrees, and I’m of course sensitive to the insecurity and challenges this pandemic has created. But the issues of diversity and inclusion haven’t gone away, so neither should the need to do something about them.
Yet one thing this situation has revealed is that these issues remain a secondary agenda. As Richard Miles at The Diversity Standards Collective observes, “most companies have just pushed D&I aside during COVID, meaning D&I is actually looked at as a ‘nice to have’ rather than critical to your business needs.”
That strikes me as a great shame when, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, we see these exact issues making headlines. Reports have revealed that 1 in 3 key workers in the US are women, yet women continue to earn 81.1% of their male counterparts. Here in the UK the BAME community is suffering disproportionately, with the government overlooking the fact that the community is more likely to live in multigenerational households or in densely populated areas, increasing their risk.
If anything, rather than COVID-19 overshadowing these issues, it is throwing them into even greater relief.
Miles also pointed to the inherent challenges of a self-isolating workforce: “We are now segregated to our own homes, which means we are not surrounded by different cultures and diverse opinions on a day-to-day basis like before, and we lean towards working in very linear groups to get the work done which can mean some opinions and voices are cut out.”
I believe that we should reignite momentum from the ground up. Diversity and inclusion are, I like to think, firmly on the so-called ‘agenda’; now we need to turn awareness into action. Rally like-minded people in your organisation, start a conversation, set clear goals and ask transparently for the help needed to achieve them.
But perhaps most importantly, foster an environment of unpunished curiosity, one that allows people to ask well-intentioned questions and learn something, rather than have the fear of retribution discourage them from engaging at all.