Diversity and inclusion post-Covid-19

workingmums.co.uk held a virtual roundtable on diversity and inclusion post-Covid-19 in July with a range of different employers. The below is our white paper on the roundtable.

Headshots of employees


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The roundtable, held on July 9th, brought together diversity and recruitment experts from 13 organisations to discuss whether diversity and inclusion will continue to move forwards in the wake of coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter protests or whether it will suffer from budget cuts because it is not sufficiently embedded in many organisations.

The roundtable was hosted by Gillian Nissim, founder of workingmums.co.uk, who spoke about the organisation’s commitment to sharing and promoting best practice in diversity and flexible working and about the need for employers from different sectors to come together to share ideas with regard to diversity and inclusion. She said it was vital that D & I did not fall off employers’ agendas as research showed the disproportionate impact the pandemic was having on women. She said the Black Lives Matter protests had highlighted the need for greater action on diversity and anti-racism.

Employer experiences since lockdown

Employers were asked about their own experiences since the lockdown. One spoke of the progress that had been made on diversity just before lockdown, but said the pandemic had turned the labour market on its head, meaning those who lost their jobs were no longer in a candidates’ market and would find it more difficult to gain employment. The longer they were out of work the more they risked losing skills. There was therefore a big need for upskilling programmes. Apprenticeships were targeted more at young people and there was a risk women would lose out – one employer said apprenticeships should be open to everyone and that the apprenticeship levy should be more flexible so the scheme could apply to a broader range of people. Nevertheless, some employers had a skills shortage. It was important to ensure people had the skills needed for the jobs of the future.

Other employers said they were increasing their work on D & I in the wake of the Black Lives Matter [BLM] protests. One said it had prioritised D & I during the pandemic and that there was a momentum building around it both in the UK and around the world.  She said many businesses were waking up to the fact that they had not been doing enough on D & I, except on women and LGBT issues. The need for intersectionality was clear.

Several employers talked about renewing their focus on D & I and reviewing their processes, for instance, anonymising recruitment and removing educational background. Employee expectations about action were shifting massively and things that were acceptable in the past were no longer acceptable. Senior managers were appreciating that D & I affects work as a whole and were aware that Covid-19 had had a different impact on different groups.

Employers were now taking the time to listen to employees’ experiences of racism. The pandemic had also woken employers up to the need to communicate better and be more inclusive generally through using a variety of channels to get messages out and to listen to people. The fact that more people were working from home and colleagues could see each other in their home settings brought people closer and that helped inclusion. Zoom meetings on racism brought the issues home to senior leaders very immediately with employees able to comment in the chat column during sessions. One employer had created hundreds of D & I champions to work locally to increase diversity through outreach work and recruitment days and a competition for children on women in engineering.

Communication was really key for inclusion. Several employers held education sessions following BLM. One employer had followed up with anonymous in-depth focus groups facilitated by an external consultant. Another global company with US outlets heard directly about the impact of BLM in the US. This had had a big impact and had led to moves to create UK platforms for sharing experiences about racism. The provision of laptops and phones to remote workers during lockdown meant it had been easier to communicate with shift workers. Employers spoke of how they had discovered video as a tool for making remote workers feel included and wanted to continue this in the future.

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Creating the right structures

Employers said it was vital to create the structures necessary for action and communication, such as D & I councils and inclusion managers or having D & I leaders on specific workstreams or creating networks which were employee-owned and inclusive. Senior management leadership, for instance, executive sponsors of different workstreams, was also important. One employer suggested splitting women’s and parents networks in order to attract more dads. Access to good data was also needed to build momentum on diversity. Employee groups could work in partnership with HR to move things forward and some employers were holding engagement sessions between senior managers and employee networks.

A safe return to work for all

An inclusive culture was at the centre of D & I policies, supported by agile working, but agile working meant employers had to think differently about a range of issues to ensure no-one was excluded, for instance, how they recognised and rewarded people who were not physically present.

Employers emphasised that a one size fits all approach didn’t work – not everyone wanted to work remotely, for instance, apprentices might need face to face contact and many people missed the social side of the office. They needed to offer a range of ways of working, including a cross between home and office-based working, and educate line managers in how to manage different work patterns, including in how to ensure remote workers did not overwork. Employees had to be included in any discussions about the future of work. Most wanted to continue working flexibly, with no set days for working from home. They wanted to be enabled to manage themselves more.

Some employers were implementing a phased return to work, but that might not help parents who faced summer childcare issues. Parent channels helped to enable parents to share information and support.

On fears about safety, employers said it was important to ask employees what made them feel safe and to initiate a conversation. Given BAME workers were at higher risk of dying from Covid-19, some employers were implementing extra steps in their risk assessment policy.

Using data

One employer who worked in the construction sector said that her business was very fact based so the best way to approach diversity and inclusion issues was to make the intangible tangible using data showing how certain groups were better represented in applications and at certain levels than others. Showing people these visible patterns tells a story and helps to get buy-in for initiatives to address bias and training. Clients were also asking for data on diversity and inclusion, but it was important that any data collected was meaningful and that it was possible to show that it would be used to make the organisation better.

Another employer said they collected data upfront – including on race and gender – from the moment people apply for a job. That meant they could do a deep dive into issues around bias and were able to do a diversity impact assessment. This was really powerful as it showed at what points in people’s careers discrimination was more likely to occur.

There was a brief discussion about employers not being forced to report on their gender pay gap figures this year due to Covid-19. That meant employers with worse figures were less likely to publish. Having the data on gender, ethnicity or other issues opened up big debates and meant it was harder for employers to hide if they were not doing anything to address bias.

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Addressing bias

One employer had started facilitated conversations about moving beyond bias using an e-learning video about how bias manifests itself. The aim was to get people to acknowledge their bias in a safe environment. The challenge was to spread this from head office across the company. Engagement was important as was having a core culture which supported this approach and which brought people along from the beginning. Another agreed that videos could help spark conversations. She explained how they had effectively converted external facilitator-led unconscious bias training lessons to remote sessions delivered to people’s phones in lockdown. The process had led to people volunteering to be diversity and inclusion champions locally. That promotes a sense of community and had led to the launch of an inclusive leadership training programme for managers which included information on the legal implications of bias. It helped to make the consequences very real.

Another employer spoke of the need to train interviewers in unconscious bias and to embed nudges against bias in the talent management process so that managers were constantly challenged. Just doing a one-off unconscious bias training session was not enough to keep up the momentum.

Key takeaways:

– Post-lockdown we will no longer be in a candidates’ market. The case for D & I will have to be made using good data and by underlining the intersectional impact of bias
– Collect information on race, gender etc in order to be able to show clearly the points during a person’s career where discrimination may be more likely and to be able to open up important debates
– Ensure the data collected is meaningful and show how it will make the organisation better
– Skills training needs to be aimed at all employees, particularly underrepresented groups, and not just the young
– Employee expectations about D & I are shifting
– Communicate better using a variety of channels
– Consider creating D & I champions, inclusion managers, D & I councils, etc, that support D & I strategies across the organisation on a local basis
– Listen to employees about their experiences of discrimination
– Promote employee networks where different groups can share their experiences and ideas for how to tackle bias
– Inclusion should be at the core of agile working, for example, ensuring that rewards for remote workers are inclusive
– Involve employees in discussions about the future of work and safety issues
– Use video and concrete examples to spark discussions about bias
– Tackling bias needs to be continual so ensure that there are constant nudges to alert people to possible bias in decision-making.




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