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Covid has thrown down the gauntlet for many organisations – forcing some to rapidly set up home working options and others to diversify products to be accessed predominantly online. Whilst the pandemic has placed notable strain on businesses and employees, taking its toll on everything from sales to mental wellbeing, there have also been silver linings during the crisis – such as developing exciting new revenue streams and achieving a better work-life balance.

But how has the diversity and inclusion (D&I) agenda within organisations been affected during the pandemic? And how have employees been impacted? We consider some of the pandemic related highs and lows of 2020, through the lens of D&I.

Whilst some businesses have long provided flexible working options, others remained reluctant to fully embrace this way of operating. The pandemic, however, forced numerous businesses to provide homeworking solutions, with many seeing a positive impact in terms of productivity and employee satisfaction. For many parents it has meant more time at home with children and a better work life balance. It has also encouraged greater flexibility around resourcing, as businesses are no longer geographically bound by an office, providing opportunities to access more diverse talent.

However, many parents are having to juggle work, domestic chores, and home schooling – and significantly, the responsibility of this is falling to women. Four times as many females as males have left the workforce, due to the unmanageable juggle of work and home life that the pandemic has created. Some have even argued that Covid-19 has set gender equality back by 25 years.

Research finds that more than a third of workers (34%) believe that efforts to improve D&I within their organisation has been delayed due to the pandemic. Despite extraordinary pressures they face, businesses need to be careful that the D&I agenda doesn’t slip for too long – as when the economy picks up again, companies will need the best talent on board to compete.

The Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, however, helped put D&I firmly back on the map for many organisations. Businesses had to hold the mirror up, have courageous conversations and tackle unconscious bias within their organisation.

Maximising opportunities in the new year

As organisations continue into 2021 with trepidation, managing fluxes of lockdowns and easing of restrictions, it is important to remember the employees that helped them survive the pandemic and will see them through the other side. Businesses that maintained a focus on D&I throughout, providing employees with equal opportunities to flex work to their needs and shine in their role, will benefit from a more engaged and productive workforce that will serve them well into recovery.

Take action

For businesses that may require a renewed focus on D&I, or may not know where to start, it’s never too late to act. D&I specialists can guide businesses through the process, thoroughly researching how diverse an organisation is and advising where it may benefit from greater inclusivity. From there, D&I specialists can plot the best course of action for businesses to take, including: gaining stakeholder buy in, through training on topics such as unconscious bias; refreshing recruitment practices, to access hard to reach employees; and improving onboarding, to ensure language and frameworks support diverse talent effectively.

By removing barriers that may prevent diverse talent from joining and staying with an organisation, businesses can create a working environment that benefits from a good balance of neurodiversity. Not only does this make businesses more attractive as an employer, but it gives them a competitive edge – helping to seize opportunities this year presents.