You may not have noticed, but Equal Pay Day passed by on November 20th more quietly than in previous years. Unfortunately, the lack of noise was far from a signal that all is well. In fact, a lot of the progress on equality achieved by The Fawcett Society, amongst others, is being undone by the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 has created a crisis in workplace equality
Last month, The Fawcett Society surveyed 8,400 adults about COVID-19 and concluded that the pandemic is having a “devastating” impact on gender equality in the workplace.
A third of working mothers have lost work or hours due to a lack of childcare during the pandemic, rising to 44% of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic mothers.
Equally, 43% of working women and 50% of BAME women admitted to being worried about their job or prospects of getting a promotion in the future.
This survey is not an outlier. Many other studies have concluded that women, particularly from ethnic backgrounds, are at a disproportionately higher risk of losing their jobs, cutting back hours or considering leaving the workplace as a result of the pandemic.
While the situation may be desperate, Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, was right when she said, “throughout the last century, crises comparable to the pandemic have been forks in the path of history”, with the Second World War heralding the birth of the welfare state.
As we head towards a post-COVID-19 world, we are heading to one of those forks. This is our time to either revert backwards, or to make changes in our society rectifying the issues that existed pre-pandemic, such as workplace inequality.
The need to change recruitment processes
Although many businesses want to improve workplace equality, they are often unintentionally overlooking a crucial tool at their disposal: recruitment. Employing senior role models from diverse backgrounds not just brings that individual talent but acts as an aspirational beacon for other employees from similar backgrounds.
If businesses are serious about diversity and equality, recruitment – and in particular the recruitment processes – is where the path begins.
Continuing the same recruitment methods will not, by itself, lead to an increase in workplace equality. Instead, businesses need to bring in new ways of searching for candidates and, most importantly, engage the communities they are looking to hire from.
For instance, there are hundreds of networks on LinkedIn dedicated to women in STEM. These groups are a great way to connect directly with high-calibre female and BAME candidates in a specific sector, rather than posting on job sites and wait for them to find you.
Engage your staff, internal networks and allies
It may sound counter-intuitive given worries about ‘the old boys club’ but referrals are actually one of the most powerful ways to boost workplace equality. By proactively asking specific people or networks for recommendations, referrals can seed roles and invite in the very communities you are looking to hire from.
You should encourage existing employees or key contacts to recommend individuals or, if not, to share roles with their own networks, using rewards as incentives where necessary and equipping them with the tools they need to easily promote the company for you.
Importantly, by actively asking for their help, it shows your communities that diversity is not just lip-service but is integral to the future of your firm.
The power of referrals in boosting diversity lies in the human element. When you ask for a referral, you are asking someone who knows your business well to matchmake a role with someone who they think has the skills, potential and interest to do your job – even if they’ve been on a career break, or are currently working in a different field. It’s very different to automated keyword-filtering followed by a 5-second human screen that tends to favour traditional candidates.
The COVID-19 pandemic has stifled the progress of workplace equality, but this does not mean all hope is lost. Due to the disruption caused by the crisis, an opportunity has arisen. If businesses are serious about workplace equality and want to recoup some of the ground lost to the pandemic, this is the time to change recruitment processes, engage communities and actively seek out diverse candidates.