HR professionals are busier than ever trying to access the Coronavirus Retention Scheme and identify employees to be furloughed, whilst trying to support staff in delivering business as usual where possible. We have noted the creative and innovative ways that businesses are responding to the crisis and how some have had to diversify overnight.
With the Prime Minister’s announcement that we must ‘Stay Alert’ to stop the spread and remain in lockdown for the interim, we outline why HR should still be considering initiatives such as the ethnicity pay gap and gender pay gap to ensure that they remain agile and emerge from the pandemic as a stronger employer committed to diversity and inclusion.
Formulate your action plan now
In February, ethnicity pay gap reporting was being discussed as an initiative that will likely come into force in 2021. Employers were being urged to take action now instead of waiting for legislation to come into force.
Potentially set for snapshots to be taken in April 2021, organisations were starting to increasingly consider how best to report this information. HR Groups are reporting that it is a harder metric to monitor as it is often optional for employees to provide this information and employers are querying whether it is a discriminatory practice to make this information mandatory. Therefore, considering how well set up you are as an employer to overcome the mechanics of the reporting requirements will hold you in good stead when the focus returns to the demographics of the workforce in the future.
Using data available to start to build a picture of the diversity of your workforce can inform recruitment strategies and where your message to potential candidates may be falling short. Unconscious bias can be identified early on, ahead of any future reporting requirements. Recruitment practices can also be more effectively scrutinised where the employer is informed on the current picture of diversity and inclusion within their organisations.
Keep momentum behind equal opportunities
Two weeks before the annual April deadline for each company with at least 250 people to publish their gender pay gap, the government announced that enforcing the reporting was suspended for 2020. Whilst this was in recognition of the pressure faced by employers during a period of unprecedented uncertainty and pressure, critics have said that this move signaled that gender equality remains an afterthought for thousands of managers. Only around a quarter of companies submitted their data despite having a year to prepare this information.
Whilst there is a balance in the two opposing views – between the government easing pressure on HR teams grappling with the aftermath of lockdown and the importance of ensuring female progression is not at the bottom of agendas for all organisations – maintaining momentum behind the gains made in this area is an important consideration for employers.
This is accompanied with the caveat that employers must only do what they possibly can in these trying times. The furlough scheme for some will mean that diversity and inclusion is necessarily parked for the interim period, but for organisations who can continue to monitor this information, their willingness to uphold this during trying times will be remembered. With reports that the pandemic will exacerbate inequalities for women, employers cannot be seen to have a dismissive attitude towards gender equality even in unprecedented times. Equal opportunities are vital to how employers are defined by existing and potential employees.
When the effects of coronavirus subside, corporations will be scrutinised for their actions during one the toughest of times seen in generations. Where possible, corporations should continue to monitor their gender pay gap and hold themselves to account. This demonstrates an employer who is upholding commitments to promoting diversity and inclusion within a workplace and will define an organisation’s culture in the future.
The pandemic has enforced working from home for millions of people, which may also enable employers to implement more flexible working arrangements in the future for existing and potential candidates, allowing them to recruit more diversely. Greater levels of ethnic and gender diversity have been shown to drive profitability levels, but despite this, there is a more limited pipeline of talent from minority groups. Closing diversity gaps can reportedly boost UK GDP by £24bn, which could be vital for economic recovery following the pandemic.
Greater flexibility can attract more diverse applicants, so that the employer can access a greater range of talent pools than those who can only work office hours. During the coronavirus outbreak, remote working has been a challenge in itself. With nurseries and schools closed to children unless they have key worker parents, many have been forced to work from home around their children and juggle work and family life. Therefore, offering a degree of flexibility may become easier for organisations that can assess the success and productivity levels being achieved during lockdown, in the most trying conditions.
Post-pandemic: how do you want to be defined as an employer?
We appreciate that this turbulent time does not easily present itself as an opportunity to be proactive in planning what your workforce will look like after lockdown measures are modified. However, considering your long-term strategy, in step with the government’s exit strategy, is an important part of how well you are set for delivering your organisation’s future vision when restrictions are lifted.
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