Over the last 18 months to two years, the pandemic has certainly shone a light on inequalities within our society. There have been many headlines about the disproportionate impact of the pandemic. Whether we are thinking about women in the workplace, people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, or people from ethnic minority backgrounds, I think the organisations that I talk to have become a lot more aware of their role as employers and what they can do to reduce some of the inequalities that are in society.
Minding the gap: remote working
We are beginning to see a division between those who want to return to the workplace or the office and those who would prefer to work remotely from home. It could be that people just have a preference for working from home and they feel much more productive working remotely, but it could also be because they have concerns about their health and wellbeing. Those concerns could arise from having a disability or long-term health condition, which makes it riskier to return to the workplace. It could also be that they are caring for an elderly parent or a child who has a disability or long-term health condition, and they want to minimise any risk of catching covid on their family.
So I see a bit of division opening up between those who do go into the office, who perhaps have easier access to information and opportunities for promotion, for example, and those who are working from home.
Mental health and wellbeing
Another thing we’ve seen in the press over the last two years is how the pandemic is having a big impact on our mental health and wellbeing.
It’s good to see some of the organisations I work with having a focus on the mental health and wellbeing of their employees. I’m seeing them putting things in place to support their employees’ mental health and wellbeing. It ranges from giving people time off to look after their wellbeing, providing employee assistance programs so that people can get help over the phone to providing mindfulness apps. There are all sorts of initiatives out there to help mental health and wellbeing, but what we are starting to notice is that there’s a closer alignment between mental health interventions and initiatives and work. So we are seeing that diversity and inclusion and HR practitioners are bringing these strands together in workplaces.
Hybrid working is here to stay
My third prediction for 2022 is that the hybrid working is here to stay. This is the new normal, as they say. It’s important that as hybrid working continues, we ensure there is still equality for everybody. What I mean by that is that we make sure that there’s equality of opportunity between people who are continuing to work from home, and those that do go into the office or have to go into the workplace because their job cannot be done remotely. Examples of that being they might work at a distribution centre, or out in the field, be on the road or on the shop floor.
We need to make sure that regardless of what people do in the business that hybrid working or agile working is made available to everybody. I work with some clients who say that, for instance, their staff that work in the factory cannot have any flexible working compared to those who work in operational roles in the back office, for instance, but actually there are plenty of opportunities to introduce flexible working on the shop floor, so for instance, allowing somebody to start their shift just half an hour later than they normally would, can be really helpful. It can make a huge difference in somebody’s ability to take their children to school, or pop in and check in on the elderly parent on their way to work, to make sure that they’re up and they have breakfast, things like that. It’s important not to underestimate those small acts of flexibility within an organisation.
With hybrid working, we’ve seen the introduction of new technology. Many more people are using platforms like Zoom and there are new technologies that are coming on the market to make online work life a lot easier. What I am noticing is that these new technologies do not have a great focus on accessibility for people who might have different disabilities.
When you are picking technologies for a hybrid way of working with your team, please make sure that you’re also looking at the accessibility of those systems that you’re choosing. It might be that you don’t have somebody on your team who has accessibility requirements right now, but it’s better to pre-empt it in case somebody does join your team who has accessibility requirements.
It could also be a client or customer that needs that accessible assistive technology, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s easy to add accessibility as one of the things that you check when you’re picking new systems or technologies to use.
My next prediction for this year is that retaining talent is going to be harder than ever. We’ve seen the headlines. There is such a high demand for skills. With both the Great Resignation that’s happened in the last year or so combined with Brexit we are facing the pressure of skill shortages. We’re seeing lots of industries affected. From a diversity and inclusion perspective, that means there needs to be a big focus on the business culture to create the right environment and help retain talent.
One of the things that I do with my clients is to help them define their culture. We think about how they want to articulate their culture to their current staff, but also to people that they want to attract to come and work with them in the future so that they are seen as an attractive place to work.
There’s going to be a move to working with more freelancers, a move towards the gig economy, and getting people to come and work for you for short-term engagements, as well as recruiting talent from abroad. Again, what this means is that we need to create the right kind of culture. We need to consider and develop cultural intelligence to make a great environment for people.
That wraps up my diversity and inclusion predictions for 2022.