Don’t let D&I slip in these challenging times

With organisations focusing on keeping their businesses afloat, keeping up to date with on the plethora of changes being brought about by COVID-19, and planning to operate with reduced budgets in the wake of the economic downturn, it would be easy for D&I to slip down the agenda. CIPD Research Adviser, Mel Green says that employers need to continue to prioritise D&I to ensure that everyone can thrive at work.

While four in ten employers responding to a recent CIPD survey of 1,178 employers said that their prior investment in diversity and inclusion would help them respond effectively in a crisis to employee and customer, just over a quarter said that they planned to put work on diversity and inclusion on the backburner for now.

This is concerning. Before the pandemic 14% of employers put D&I in their top three priorities for HR, compared to just 5% one month into lockdown. Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter have shown how non-negotiable diversity, inclusion and anti-racism should be, and employers should continue to focus on getting it right, whatever the ecomonic climate.

Numerous research and policy papers produced by the CIPD have highlighted why businesses have a responsibility to ensure that everyone can access work and thrive at work, and that organisations should be diverse and representative of their customer base.

The CIPD report Diversity and Inclusion at Work: Facing up to the business case highlights both the business and the moral case for diversity and inclusion, pointing to evidence that while many organisations prioritise D&I, action is often not guided by clear knowledge of what works. Organisations need to take evidence-based decisions based on the outcomes of diversity, the factors keeping inequality in the workplace, and the outcomes of diversity on both organisational performance and employees.

A focus on D&I will be essential to ensure that organisations respond fairly to the pandemic. A good example of this is the disproportionate impact of childcare on women while schools and places providing childcare were closed.

Similarly mental health issues have come to the forefront for many during the pandemic, with almost third of key workers in June saying that their mental health has been negatively affected by work. In the same survey 61% of people with anxiety said the pandemic had contributed to their anxiety, and 56% of people with existing mental health issues prior to lockdown said the pandemic had worsened their mental health.

Employers have a duty of care to support employees through such a difficult time. Encouragingly 65% of employers in a recent CIPD survey said that they have explicitly considered the needs and likely concerns of different employee groups in their future plans, and 73% of employers who say that employees are fearful and anxious about themselves or loved ones becoming ill have put employee wellbeing in their top three priorities for HR.

However the pandemic has changed the focus of D&I for many employers. Rather than working on big programmes and initiatives, many employers are switching their focus back to the core principals of D&I – looking at their cultures and management behaviours, which is very important as organisations make big decisions around remote working, redundancies and eventually returning to the workplace. Some organisations will require a significant cultural and behavioural shift as they plan for the future.

And regardless of the pandemic, we all need to take action to eradicate racism at work, which negatively impacts black and ethnic minority employees in so many ways.

The CIPD launched its #EndRacismAtWork campaign in June and has created a dedicated hub with a variety of resources to help people professionals tackle racism and racial discrimination in the workplace. This hub is open access to ensure that everyone can benefit from our insight.