How Covid-19 made inclusion worse for everyone

Lydia Watson

Lydia Watson

It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone. Some have lost family and friends, others their livelihoods. We’ve all struggled with not seeing loved ones, with loneliness, with a fundamental change to our way of life. 

But while suffering is relative, it has categorically been harder for some. Where one end of the scale has seen billionaires amass even more wealth, up to $10.2 trillion in the first months of the pandemic, the other reality has seen pre-existing inequalities become more entrenched.

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The unsung victim of Covid-19? Inclusion

From entire industries like hospitality being put ‘on pause’ to a widespread move to remote working, the pandemic has dramatically exacerbated pre existing inclusion problems - across ethnicity, gender, age, and disability. 

Although the rollout of vaccines allows us to hope that life might start to stabilise, the impact could be seen for generations to come: with progress stalled, and new issues arising. The good news? Through our work with Robert Walters and their partners, we can understand the diversity and inclusion issues that organisations can look to tackle: because knowing is half the battle.

Gender & Inclusion: women in the workplace

For women in employment, the pandemic has only exacerbated existing barriers. While the gender pay gap slowly seemed to be closing, from 17.8% to 17.3% from 2018-2019, coronavirus seems to have caused a backwards slide. With the government lifting the obligation for organisations to report close to the deadline - despite the likelihood that much of the data would already have been gathered - the gap rose across companies that did submit. 

With reports that women’s jobs are 1.8x more at risk than men’s, one big cause looks to be an unequal division of childcare - with women spending significantly more hours on childcare and homeschooling than men in the first lockdown. From missing out on progression opportunities to being more likely to be made redundant, this trend is concerning. 

In our research, we saw flexible work arrangement were important to 31% of women as a result (compared to just 21% of men) - with 10% of women in their 30s speaking about needing better flexible working options - with comments like these:

“Being female with my own children often leads to conflict around work and parental responsibilities.”

“(My employer needed to) be more flexible to request to change working hours when returning from maternity so I could accommodate childcare arrangements”

Ethnicity & Inclusion: health & job security at risk

For certain ethnic minorities, existing health disparities were one factor that the pandemic amplified. Beyond health vulnerabilities themselves, socioeconomic circumstances played a big part here: ethnic minority groups are overrepresented in frontline medical roles, are less likely to have access to PPE and receive the relevant training, and are over twice as likely as white people to use public transport. This exposure to the risk, and the increased risk itself, both exacerbates and is exacerbated by reports of increased job insecurity. 

Much of this is related to the existing landscape of employment. BAME people are more likely to be on zero hours contracts, Pakistani men are 70% more likely than white British men to be self-employed and three times as likely to have jobs in industries closed due to lockdown, with Bangladeshi men four times as likely - and 29% of those people without an earning partner

As a result, people from Bangladesh (43%) and Black African groups (38%) were most likely to report loss of income since COVID-19 - with 14% of BAME groups having to use their savings for daily costs, compared to 8% of those in white British backgrounds. The pandemic hasn’t just led to severe personal costs, from loss of life to loss of income, it’s also made the pre-existing health and wealth disparity worse.

Read the full report 

Age: stressed and stopped in their tracks

For young people, mental health was already a concern - research from Deloitte saw 44% of millennials and 48% of Gen Z respondents say mental health was their first or second priority, and for good reason. This is for good reason, as the same proportion also said they were stressed or anxious the majority of the time.  

The pandemic has only worsened matters. Reports show that the number of 16-39-year-olds suffering from depression skyrocketed during the pandemic - up to 31%, from 10.9% previously. This should be a key consideration for employers: and our recent research supports that, as we saw almost a third of millennials struggle with anxiety at work.

Compounding the problem of exacerbated mental health issues, the impact of the pandemic has affected the job market itself. When it comes to job security, both young and older workers have been affected. For the youngest Gen Z employees, we saw 37% are dissatisfied with their pay and 28% concerned with job security - a reasonable worry, with 62% of 16-24-year-old workers furloughed in 2020.  

“Due to their lack of experience in the workplace and professional connections,Gen Z professionals are the most likely to have the most difficult time getting employed or re-employed due to Covid-19. With businesses scaling back on graduate schemes and internships,coupled with fewer entry-level opportunities and higher competition for jobs - we’ve seen a 50% year-on-year increase in jobs applications- it’s anticipated that Covid-19 will have a lasting impact on this generation for decades to come.”

 

- Chris Hickey, CEO -UKI, MEA & North America, Robert Walters Group

On the other end of the spectrum, things aren’t much more promising. One in four of workers aged 54+ were furloughed between June and July, and one in five of the rest were working reduced hours. Others were forced to change their retirement plans - both fast-tracking and delaying it - and it’s suggested that fears about finding secure work are having an impact. 

Disability: employment targets held back

Similarly to those in minority ethnic groups, there are multiple health and social factors that put people with disabilities more at risk of contracting Covid-19 - from existing medical conditions, to greater difficulties with social distancing. In the context of employment, this creates even more barriers - as our research has shown, with 2/5ths of employers saying their inability to support disabled people during the pandemic poses a barrier to hiring them. 

Not only does this hamper the government’s target of having 1 million additional people in employment by 2027, it also means it's predicted there’ll be this many more people unemployed by the end of 2021 instead.

Interested in reading the full report?

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is increasingly a priority for organisations - and it’s important to their prospective customers and employees too. Understanding the reality of inclusion issues at work is crucial - whether regarding age, gender, disability, or ethnicity. Only then can steps be made to make things better for everyone.

Register now to receive the full Robert Walters report, and learn more about the factors affecting inclusion across organisations - with steps you can take to drive change.

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Topics: Diversity & Inclusion, News

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