It’s often the case that during a period of mass disruption or crisis, we recognize how resilient we are and how we can adapt quickly. When it comes to the workplace, Covid-19 has tested both our resilience and adaptability. Working in travel we have had to pivot quickly, supporting our customers and travellers as they navigate a rapidly changing environment and take steps to rebuild our industry.
Now, I believe that leaders across my industry and others need to apply this same creativity to tackle the enduring challenges that surround workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I).
For me, a core learning from the past 18 months is that we need to challenge inequalities in the workforce if we are to build more enduring, resilient, and sustainable organizations. But how should we do it?
A diverse workforce and an inclusive culture are a business imperative
The case for D&I has always been clear. Not only is building a diverse and inclusive workplace the right thing to do, but it is a business imperative too.
According to a McKinsey series investigating the business case for diversity, the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile—up from 21 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2014.
The reasons for this are simple: diverse teams and inclusive cultures lead to higher individual performance, with all employees being more engaged and motivated. It’s also associated with higher group performance because diversity of thought and experience leads to better decision-making, particularly when compared to more homogenous groups.
It is only by embracing different backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences that businesses can thrive and develop. This is especially true of organizations that are built upon innovation, as innovation can only flourish when fuelled by diversity of perspective and viewpoint.
Has Covid-19 reversed progress?
Despite such compelling evidence, material progress has undoubtedly been slower than many of us would hope. In the same McKinsey report, it was found that ethnic minorities representation has also remained stagnant, with the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in some of the 1,100 most powerful jobs in the UK barely moving since 2017.
Another McKinsey study examined workplaces around the world during COVID-19 and found that women and ethnic minorities employees are disproportionately experiencing workload increases, issues of workplace health and safety, mental health challenges, problems with work-life balance, feelings of isolation, and more.
Gender equality is an area that has particularly taken a step back, with a World Economic Forum report showing that the length of time until women and men are truly equal has increased from 99.5 years to 135.6 years in the space of just twelve months.
Employment is an area where the worst impacts on equality have occurred. When Covid-19 began in early 2020, women held more jobs in the US than men for the first time since 2010. One year later, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women lost one million more jobs than men, including all 156,000 job losses in December 2020.
While much of the drop in participation has been due to women’s jobs being in most pandemic-hit sectors, many women were also forced out of the labor market to pick up care responsibilities during lockdowns. According to the European Commission, lockdowns had a significant impact on unpaid care and work-life balance, as women spent, on average, 62 hours per week caring for children (compared to 36 hours for men).
Simply put, many pre-existing inequalities have been amplified during the pandemic.
This all seems very negative in the context of accelerating progress in D&I, but I think there is room for renewed optimism and renewed focus, even as the pandemic endures.
More generally, there is now more awareness of how the pandemic has impacted marginalized groups. And this understanding is key to addressing the issues that stand in the way of promoting greater diversity.
We must all take responsibility for improving diversity and inclusion
Where should businesses be focusing? What are the steps that need to be taken and the processes that must be implemented to build a truly inclusive culture?
Here are five strategies that can help us to build back better and some of the measures we are championing at Amadeus:
- Take an audit on existing strategy: As we start to emerge from the pandemic, it will be vital to take an audit of existing pre-pandemic measures and what wasn’t working and what worked well. We regularly review our progress in our D&I journey to identify opportunities for improvement, such as where we can remove structural obstacles, improve People & Culture (P&C) processes and remuneration practices, and bolster the implementation of specific leave, flexitime, and remote working policies.
- Take it from the top: One way to ensure D&I efforts are meaningful in the long-term and are prioritized by all is to start at the top. ‘Diversity of thought’ is so vital to challenging assumptions and ensuring this is embedded across the senior leadership team can help foster and accelerate growth and innovation.
- Reconsider your interview process: Seeking diversity in your workforce is not about favoring under-represented groups. It is about shifting your recruitment lens to consider the widest possible pool of candidates and assessing them based on their expertise and how they will contribute to the cognitive diversity across the organization. Regularly reviewing recruitment processes and structures to remove unconscious bias is imperative.
- Focus on culture and stakeholder education: Diversity and inclusion is not only about ensuring that you recruit and retain a diverse workforce of talented people, but it is also about nurturing a culture that is inclusive, welcoming and celebrates difference. This starts by gaining a deeper understanding of these issues through continuous education, not a one-off, tick box diversity training session. It’s about putting in structures that foster continual learning, openness and discussions that directly feed into D&I initiatives. Only then can you create a culture that prioritizes and embraces difference.
- Broaden the definition of inclusion: A common misconception about D&I is that the representation side of the coin ends with immutable characteristics like ethnicity. This is one, albeit vital, component, but it is also important to widen the net and embrace diversity in its broadest sense. This means valuing different lived experiences, such as geographical locations, educational background, socio-economic status and neurodiversity, and ensuring these voices are heard across the workplace too. Including these different perspectives and embracing diversity is part of what has made Amadeus successful, and we are committed to continuing to make sure that everyone feels equally involved and supported