The impact of COVID-19 on the diversity and inclusion agenda

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Simon Reichwald, Strategic Lead for Talent at underrepresented talent specialist MyKindaFuture, reflects on the progress of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in UK businesses in 2020 and offers his advice for sustaining momentum as companies continue to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the progress of D&I policies?

There’s no doubt that the arrival of the pandemic earlier this year had an impact on D&I in businesses across the country. With the unprecedented situation forcing many companies into survival mode, anything that was considered ‘nice to have’ as opposed to essential to the business’s short-term survival was jettisoned, D&I strategies included. This inevitably had a huge impact on talented individuals from a vast range of diverse backgrounds, many of whom were already suffering the effects that lockdown restrictions were having on industries such as hospitality, retail and manufacturing.

However, this quickly changed following the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement back in May. The increased awareness and publicity around the movement sparked a significant shift in businesses’ attitudes towards the issue, putting D&I firmly back on the agenda and, for many organisations, a bigger priority than it was even before COVID-19, both when it comes to new recruits and their existing staff.

What is the situation now?

Whilst an increased awareness and commitment to championing diverse talent in the workforce is fantastic, there remains a risk that businesses could slip back into old habits if there is not a sustained effort to maintain momentum when it comes to D&I policies. This is particularly a risk whilst the ongoing effects of the pandemic continue to put all aspects of business under strain.

With unemployment on the rise, there may be a temptation for businesses to opt for the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to recruitment and continue to hire those who, on the surface, seem the most ready to hit the ground running, but could well be the same profile as the majority of the staff within the business. They might perceive this as a ‘safer option’. In many cases, the risk is these individuals will not be from diverse backgrounds, thus setting progress back by several years. This was less of an issue before the pandemic when employment was at an all-time high, as employers were forced to fish in different, more diverse pools in order to find talented individuals for their business. Now, with more candidates on the market than ever before, it’s down to businesses to make a conscious effort to attract, hire and develop individuals that have been traditionally overlooked.

How can employers sustain momentum when it comes to D&I?

Whilst employers have a responsibility to engage with diverse talent when hiring, many businesses facing the uncertainty of the pandemic and a difficult year ahead, have introduced recruitment freezes. For these businesses, a great way to maintain momentum and continue to make meaningful progress in the D&I space is by developing their existing diverse staff.

Levelling up existing staff by raising aspirations of diverse individuals and offering them the opportunities, confidence and skills they need to break through the glass ceiling and into management positions has the power to move the dial significantly when it comes D&I progress. There is a vast array of tools and techniques that can be used to support diverse talent to progress within a company, with digital solutions playing an increasingly vital role.

For example, platforms like MyKindaFuture’s online employee engagement tool, Connectr, are devised specifically to allow businesses to engage, support and develop talented individuals from all backgrounds by equipping them with the skills and confidence they need to succeed. Connectr provides access to one-to-one mentoring services, learning resources and helpful forums, and – importantly in the current COVID climate – can be rolled out on scale remotely, to allow for increased working from home and flexible working patterns. We know from our own research just how impactful the role of mentors can be when it comes to supporting diverse talent break through glass ceilings, particularly when the mentor themself comes from an underrepresented background.

Whilst the year ahead remains challenging and uncertain for many businesses across the UK, it’s the employers that remain genuinely committed to progressing the D&I agenda, both within their existing workforce and when hiring new talent, and adapt quickly to new digital strategies that will emerge from the situation with strong, diverse, adaptable teams that are well equipped for the ‘new normal’.

For more information about how MyKindaFuture help businesses support talented, diverse individuals, visit https://www.connectr.co.uk/


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