OPINION: Working virtually should not mean diversity and inclusion is an afterthought

by Jules Pierce-Ferguson | Bank of America
Thursday, 18 June 2020 08:32 GMT

A couple walk up some newly decorated staircase at Canary Wharf in London, Britain, July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Companies need to be listening, learning and taking action to make sure all their employees can bring their whole selves to work

Jules Pierce-Ferguson is Global Continuity & Resiliency Strategy & Planning Executive and Executive Committee Co-Sponsor for the LGBT+ Pride Networks across EMEA at Bank of America

Efforts to improve diversity in the workplace have taken a hit this year due to COVID-19. One of the first initiatives to go was the British government’s required gender pay gap reports. Then schools were closed, putting a strain on parents and carers. Subsequently, plans for global celebrations like Pride were postponed and cancelled.

Now, as the world responds to recent events in the United States with protests against racism, we must take note and ensure that diversity and inclusion is not overlooked – and in fact takes centre stage.

Diversity and inclusion policies are not just human resources boxes to tick or a moral obligation. Ensuring the workforce is representative and reflective of the clients and communities it is set up to serve is fundamental if an organisation is to prosper.

According to McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for executive-level ethnic diversity financially outperformed their rivals in the bottom quartile by 36%. That was further outlined by the World Economic Forum, demonstrating that diversity is shown to drive businesses’ bottom line.

I feel it will also help organisations to evolve to face the challenges of the world we will find ourselves in after this pandemic.  Ultimately, diversity enables organisations to adapt to, and face the challenges of the new world we will find ourselves in after Covid-19 and the recent events sparked by the death of George Floyd.

We need to ensure we are having the right conversations. That we are listening, learning and taking action.

I’ve experienced first-hand the effects a non-inclusive workplace has on performance and productivity, not to mention the emotional toll it takes. When I embarked on my dream career in the military, I had to conceal my identity to colleagues. But before long, was outed and consequently dismissed for being in a same-sex relationship. I look back now and remember how each day before I walked through the doors in the morning, I had to become someone else. I was so focused on hiding my identity it was exhausting.

The world has changed a lot since I started in the military. I’m lucky now to be in an environment where I can truly bring my whole self to work.

But I recognise there is still so much more we need to do. There have been significant reports that the pandemic is disproportionately impacting marginalised groups around the world. Recently, Stonewall said the pandemic risks deepening inequalities for the LGBT+ community.

While progress had undoubtedly been made before the pandemic in improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace, studies show that we’ve still got a way to go. It was only recently that research showed that over a third of British lesbians experience homophobia from other parents and that more than half of LGBT+ women have been outed at work.

Now, more than ever, while we’re all working from home, ensuring the diversity and inclusion of our virtual workforce is visible is essential.

The onus and responsibility to offer support and solutions sits with all of us, from our colleagues to our wider communities. Lending a voice; committing time, effort and resources; as well as developing clear, strategic approaches to the deployment of corporate capital to organisations that promote and protect diversity and inclusion. All of these things are vital.

Employers have a responsibility to ensure their workplace is not only Covid-safe but also inclusive to all. Diversity and inclusion policies need to adapt to the new ways of working, offering a personalised approach to the needs of the individual. It’s important to remember one size does not fit all.

Although companies may not be flying the rainbow flags in full force this June, the pandemic has offered employers and employees a chance to reset and rethink their values.

So as many plan their companies’ return to work, this is a moment for employers to adapt to the different needs of all their employees.

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