Why the pandemic could lead to positive steps forward for D&I

The pandemic has undoubtedly resulted in many challenges for businesses, and we’ll all be relieved to return to some normality at the appropriate point, but this strange time could in fact lead to some positive outcomes when it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion. 

COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on businesses and individuals globally. In industries and companies where working from home is possible, many are now doing so until further notice. 

For some, it may be the first time they have worked from home, while others may be used to it but are now having to cope with the collision of work and home life, with partners and children at home for the foreseeable future too.

Yet we believe that the pandemic will bring forth some positive outcomes for equality, diversity and inclusion too.

In many industries, companies report favourable gender equality statistics of those early on in their careers, but the gap becomes wider when you look at more senior roles – and certainly when it comes to director-level and C-suite. This is often due to issues in retaining female employees who may be returning from maternity leave or looking for a greater work-life balance as their career progresses. 

With so many companies having no option but to have most of, or their entire, workforce now working from home, it is likely that we will see more flexibility once we are ‘back to normal’. Hopefully, businesses will see that work can be done remotely to the same standard, and that their employees are as productive at home as they are in the office – if not more so.

This experience may lead to a fundamental shift in how businesses operate; for example, people in certain roles may only need to be in the office a couple of days a week, which could free up office space and save the business money while benefiting the employee through increased flexibility. This would be particularly positive in sectors that traditionally don’t offer flexible working, which are therefore the sectors where we tend to see the least diversity. 

Of course, having inclusive policies and benefits in place is important, but a more flexible culture may enable companies to not only keep their employees for a longer period, but also to boost their motivation and productivity. This means that women who may not have stuck with their company or career due to the working environment should be more likely to reach senior executive level, therefore helping to lessen the gender gap at the top. 

A shift towards greater flexibility could also benefit those with disabilities, who often find it challenging to gain access to the workplace. The disabled community has been advocating for an increase in remote work for some time, so hopefully this may finally be the catalyst that encourages companies to hire more diverse individuals, who can bring vital skills to the organisation and add value despite not being in the office.

The current pandemic brings much uncertainty about the future and some things will never quite go back to the way they were. Let’s hope that one of the positive effects will be the end of certain stigmas about working from home and increased opportunities for many who may not have previously been able to access, or progress in, the workplace. It will certainly be interesting to see how opinions, working practices and procedures will adapt.

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