Business Express Q&A FINAL
BY Meena Chander, founder of Events Together and annual diversity and inclusion conference
Despite a year of global protests and issues of racial inequality brought further to the forefront, many organisations continue to underestimate the importance of diversity and inclusion, and even fewer have succeeded in creating an accepting and supportive environment.
Here Meena Chander, founder of Events Together and annual diversity and inclusion conference, This Is Us Conference, discusses the importance of workplace diversity and inclusion and what employers can do to put the value of belonging at the heart of their organisations.
What do diversity and inclusion mean to you, and why are they important?
“Diversity and inclusion to me is all about providing an equal opportunity for everyone, no matter their age, race, gender, sexuality, disability etc.
“It is about unifying people through their differences and identifying the elements that bring us together. Inclusion also means providing support where it is needed, whether in education, the workplace or society more generally. We all have differences which make up our personas and those unique qualities can in fact bring a lot of richness to an organisation and workforce.”
How have employee attitudes and expectations around D&I changed over the last decade?
“Global movements like Black Lives Matter, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, have meant diversity and inclusion issues have very much come to the forefront.
“In addition, ‘Gen Zs’ are one of the most outspoken generations and are not afraid to portray their thoughts openly. Having been born and brought up in a more mixed society in terms of race, sexuality and disability, they have been a catalyst in raising awareness around diversity and are more integrated within a multi-faceted society than any other generation.”
2020 has been a year of significant change – what have been the main developments in workplace diversity and inclusion?
“The rise of flexible working and the mental health issues that have been exacerbated due to the pandemic have been really high on the workplace agenda, as has race equality. Whereas, in the past, employers were reluctant to allow their staff to work from home, coronavirus forced us into a situation where organisations had to adapt very quickly.
“Being in lockdown has not helped the mental wellbeing of many people who either don’t have a suitable work set-up at home, live in isolation or share a house with others where it is difficult to conduct work properly.
“Race equality in places like hospitals where there is a large BAME workforce has also become impossible to ignore, as has the lack of BAME representation in senior leadership positions.”
How has the pandemic and mass remote working had an impact on D&I?
“Organisations finally realise they have to change their working practices and can no longer treat D&I as a box ticking exercise. There must be justification for their approach, and they must support staff through better communication channels and provide more flexibility if they want to establish and maintain an engaged workforce.”
Do you think the increase in remote working will allow more women to remain in the workforce whilst balancing home and work life?
“Balancing the demands of work and home life isn’t just an issue for women – a lot of men have shared the child care responsibilities during the pandemic and even prior, and employers are realising flexible working and a healthy work-life balance should be encouraged for everyone, regardless of gender.
“With shared responsibilities now taken more into consideration, we could see an increase in the number of women in progressive roles and, you never know, there may be a shift of stereotypes if the number of men sharing childcare responsibilities continues to rise.”
What are the main benefits of prioritising D&I in the workplace?
“Prioritising D&I in the workforce should, by now, be a no brainer for organisations. Not only does it instil more proactivity in a workforce, it creates diverse thinking and encourages each person to bring something different to the table. It also widens the pool of prospective employees and can bring in different and exciting new talent.”
What are some of the negative effects that a lack of diversity can have on a corporate team?
“Businesses that fail to prioritise diversity will likely notice a lack of productivity, a negative attitude from employees [particularly those from the aforementioned Gen Z] and HR issues and workplace tribunals will become more common.”
Do you think employer attitudes to D&I will change in 2021? If so, how?“I would like to think things will change for the better as people become more educated on issues of inequality, but I have a fear that businesses will just be so busy in 2021 as they recover from the pandemic, that D&I may once again become merely a ‘nice to have’ rather than a priority.
“Employers need to have an open line of communication with their workers, help implement more of a work-life balance and support mental health if we are to come out of 2021 in a more positive position.”
What developments in workplace D&I do you hope to see in the next five years?
“I would like to see more people of minority groups in senior leadership positions, and organisations showing more disability awareness, more flexibility and less tokenism.
“They need to start looking at the whole person and considering the skills and contribution they can bring to a role. Fair hiring really needs to be made a priority”