Diversity in tech during COVID-19

By Claudia Pellegrino, Lucy Ladyman, Sophie Jansz

Furthering inclusion and diversity is a priority across PA, particularly in the current moment when different groups of people are experiencing distinct impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s why our Women in Tech team recently got together with our BAME, Pride, Women’s and Mental Health & Wellbeing networks to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted inclusion and diversity in our work and daily lives. Here are just some of the insights from our expert panel.

The impact of COVID-19 on flexible working

COVID-19 has had a predominantly positive impact on flexible working. Things that people needed to fight for in the past have now become the norm. Employers are understanding that undertaking childcare responsibilities or going for walks are positive ways to break up the working day. Part-time working has also become more common across men and women, with both genders striving for a better work–life balance.

However, the impact of home working on people’s mental health hasn’t been universally positive. There’s a growing tendency for people to be unable to switch off from work – working from home can become living at work.

To support employees during these tough times, there are some simple steps employers can take:

  • Encourage people to switch off
    Leaders should be proactive in getting people to switch off by setting an example, sharing tips on building a work-from-home routine and encouraging non-work activities. Setting up organisation-wide activities, such as walking 1,000 miles or a bake-off, can give people a challenge to do beyond their 9-5.
  • Respect individual circumstances
    People have felt different impacts when working from home. Young people in shared accommodation might not have access to a proper office environment. Parents could have the distractions of their children interrupt meetings. Those living alone could be feeling the strains of isolation more keenly. Showing respect for different circumstances and offering help will go a long way.

The impact of COVID-19 on mental health

Being able to see colleagues in their home environment, playing with their cat or answering their kid’s question, has helped bring everyone closer. But this new humanisation of work hasn’t been enough to balance out the growing level of anxiety and social isolation.

Introverts and extroverts have reacted and struggled in very different ways, leaving leaders with a complex situation to manage. For instance, many introverts have struggled to adapt to the new virtual working environment, finding it difficult to speak up in video calls or feeling uncomfortable with ‘virtual coffee catch ups’. Extroverts, on the other hand, could feel lonely, impacting their morale and quality of work.

Leaders must be mindful of people’s differences to support them in this difficult time. To do so, they should:

  • Work to truly understand people
    It’s easier to support people when you’re considering their whole personality, so consider creating personas you can quickly apply to people in your teams. These should consider both external factors like working space or caring responsibilities, and internal factors like personalities. They won’t be entirely personalised, but they will be a useful tool for considered conversation.
  • Use digital tools to promote democracy
    Encourage open and honest conversations through virtual collaboration tools. Using survey tools is also an effective way to understand everyone’s opinions.
  • Be aware of what happens away from the screens
    Our Pride network, for instance, raised the increasing risk for LGBT+ people since the start of lockdown – levels of domestic abuse are rising and the safe spaces they would usually use to meet up are shut. Employers should never take for granted someone else’s circumstances. 24-hour support is more important than ever.

Black Lives Matter, diversity and COVID-19

For the BAME community, the combination of lockdown measures and the events that triggered the Black Lives Matter movement was traumatic. Being stuck at home meant there were fewer opportunities to escape the ‘death images’ presented on TV.

But the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota meant deep conversations about the black experience finally happened within organisations around the world. This was positive, but just the start of the journey.

There’s a need to move beyond talk. The only way to make progress is to act. At PA, for example, we’ve made commitments to improve diversity and fight racism, both within and outside our firm. To make a real impact on diversity, organisations need to act decisively:

  • Make support continuous
    Create a long-term strategy for how the whole organisation can work together to support BAME employees, now and in the future.
  • Make sure your corporate culture doesn’t enhance vulnerability
    Spread the message that it’s okay not to be okay, for example by coaching and encouraging people to ask others how they’re feeling, rather than just how they are. Creating virtual support groups where people can open up is also a good idea.
  • Make sure everyone understands the importance of being an ally
    Educate people on the difference between active and passive help. When people are active allies, inclusive behaviours spread quickly through the organisation.

About the authors

Claudia Pellegrino PA business design expert
Lucy Ladyman PA digital expert Software Developer
Sophie Jansz PA digital expert

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