Covid-19 is increasing divisions and inequalities and has created new ones too. When you speak to employers there is a clear demarcation point between those who have been able to function more or less as usual during Covid; those which are overwhelmed by more work than normal, for instance, supermarkets; and those sectors which have been hugely hit and are struggling for survival or not surviving at all – and all the businesses that depend on them. This is before we hit the potential double whammy of Brexit whose consequences, both short and long term, are difficult to envisage.
The leading business as normal employers have been able to adapt fast to remote working, with those which already embraced flexible working being ahead of the curve, and they have continued with diversity and inclusion work and, in some cases, with returner programmes and other initiatives. Other employers who are progressive but have been hard hit appear to be trying to tread water on diversity and inclusion, to keep the networks and messaging in place, while fighting for their survival. In a labour surplus market, though, it is easy to forego the kind of outreach initiatives and the emphasis on transferable skills of the before Covid period. Nevertheless, there are areas of skills shortages which Brexit will add to and which require much greater action.
On the other hand, though, as many optimists point out, there is more flexible working than before which makes access to work easier for all sorts of people, including working mums. There is much talk of the autonomy over schedules that this provides, but it is also clear that some employers are investing heavily in monitoring equipment for remote workers. Without regulation, remote workers could easily be exploited or bullied and, what’s more, there would be no witnesses. In the old days, it was easier to walk away from exploitative employers. With mounting unemployment, that is not going to be an easy decision for many to take.
No-one knows what the next months will bring, but it will require a massive effort to expose both good and bad practice, to lobby hard for regulation against bad practice and to join forces urgently across communities to help each other to get through the next months and years.