Why diversity is crucial in our post-Covid-19 workplace

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  • Companies have long paid lip service to diversity, but in the aftermath of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter, award-winning business strategist Melanie Eusebe says we need less talk and more action

    History books will certainly define 2020 as a turbulent one. Although there have been recent precedents for seismic years of great upheaval. There was 9/11 and its traumatic legacy back in 2001, then the global financial crisis in 2008; both had a disproportionate adverse impact on Black professionals. Covid-19 has proven no different. But how do we plan and return to work in our new normal with diversity in the post-Covid-19 workplace at the forefront of our minds.

    The death of George Floyd, and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests, means there really is no going back to the way we were. The vigils and protests brought racial injustice to the surface across the world. Now we have to ask ‘how do we change what we used to do for the best?’

    The Black Lives Matter movement is also forcing society to finally have conversations that, according to TV Historian David Olusoga, ‘for decades we have put off or avoided.’ Delivering the keynote speech at this year’s virtual Edinburgh TV Festival, Olusoga reflected on his ‘lonely’ experience as a black person broadcaster – adding that racism has led to a ‘lost generation’ of ethnic minority people in the television industry.

    There’s a huge desire not to return to the old normal. So employers, across all industries, must learn from the lessons of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter to create a more inclusive environment and ensure longer-term post-Covid-19 workplace change.

    Changes are afoot, I’m seeing a renewed commitment on behalf of senior leadership teams to address the BAME imbalance found in the top echelons of organisations. But the fact remains that only 51 out of the 1097 most powerful roles in the county are filled by non-white individuals, an increase of just 1.2% (or 15 people) since 2017.

    The recent powerful testimonials of Black people’s experiences has brought us all to a defining watershed moment. The Black Lives Matter movement and Covid-19 has led to people demanding change and an acceleration of inclusion. We have reached the point where apologies and lofty commitments are not enough.

    post-Covid-19 workplace

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    What should employers do in a post-Covid-19 workplace?

    Companies have long since articulated commitments to diversity and inclusion, but it has now become critical. Advocacy alone will just not cut it. There needs to be comprehensive solutions, strategic action and key metrics implemented. Businesses need to push for the measurement of Black and Asian progression, and this should not just be a commitment from their senior stakeholders but throughout the whole supply chain.  

    As a workforce we need companies to monitor diversity and inclusion as they would for any other key performance indicator in business – when this happens we will begin to see real change. In business, what gets measured, gets done.

    As the Chair of The Black British Business Awards (BBBAwards), I’ve seen positive change in the workplace since its launch seven years ago. While our awards ceremony is important, it has have grown into a raft of programmes, including research, mentoring and accelerating underrepresented middle manager talent into the boardroom. But there is still a long, long way to go.

    More work has to be done by all organisations in creating an environment where Black talent can grow and thrive alongside their white colleagues. There has been progress, but it’s been slow and so the time to accelerate into a fair and inclusive workforce is now.

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