Diversity and the pandemic: how can we grow even stronger

4 min read

How has the pandemic shaped diversity within organisations?  

Even though we now know that a diverse workforce has a real positive impact on company revenue and improves decision making, during a crisis inclusion goes on the back burner more often than not.  

But in a crisis, there is also opportunity. 

Promoting positive behaviour in an organisation – particularly in construction and real estate – goes beyond policy. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, encouraging fair attitudes and challenging behaviours is everybody’s job.  

You can challenge. You can speak up. You can listen. And it helps the company you work for to grow more resilient and more inclusive. 

Karl Allcoat, an Architect in Mace’s Consult business and former co-chair of Pride at Mace, discusses the importance of grassroot involvement and employee networks as a driving force for keeping LGBT+ diversity at the top of business agenda during and after a crisis.  

Why is inclusion important? 

Why is inclusion important, even in a crisis? LGBT+ inclusion specifically, is incredibly important due to the often ‘hidden’ nature of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.  

We talk about coming out, typically for the first time to our family or friends; it can be a nerve-racking experience and takes a lot of courage, but we don’t simply come out once; it is an ongoing experience for everyone we meet, professionally and personally.  

That’s why having an inclusive environment in the workplace is so important, where people can be themselves without fear of being judged or discriminated against. Watching what you say and correcting people all the time adds pressure on people mentally, which can impact on their ability to do their job effectively and enjoy what they do in the workplace.  

Beyond policy 

Most large organisations will have an Inclusion and Diversity strategy and will have set their diversity targets. But during the pandemic, how many organisations have placed diversity at the bottom of their priority list? With many businesses having faced financial difficulty in March 2020, it is likely that underrepresented groups within organisations have been disproportionately affected.  

Grassroot involvement and promoting diversity through internal inclusion groups goes beyond policy and strategy and can help steer inclusion during a crisis and beyond.

During my time at Mace, we set up ‘Pride at Mace’ in 2017 and we now have five other employee network groups, covering LGBT+, ethnicity and culture, gender, disability, military and parents.

Our employee networks are transforming the way we work through shared experiences – raising awareness, knowledge, and education. In 2020, we launched our Diversity and Inclusion strategy, with the employee network groups providing their insights and support to develop the approach.  

During the pandemic, all of Mace’s inclusion groups have continued their activities - providing resources, training, and educational sessions to everyone in the network to raise awareness of key diversity issues and fostering a safe space for colleagues to meet likeminded people and share their experiences. 

Policy alone would have not achieved the same result during a crisis.  

I found that lunch and learn sessions are very effective in raising awareness for our network, particularly new members and allies, whilst providing a safe space to ask questions and speak openly. These have been themed around celebration days throughout the year, providing a simple structure to follow. We have covered topics such as how to be a trans ally, to hosting external speakers to share their lived experiences.

For Pride Month this year we expanded on this by collaborating with fellow networks to explore intersectionality of LGBT+ and other protected characteristics, such as LGBT+ people in the armed forces or being a parent of an LGBT+ child.

So, involvement from people inside the organisation, senior leadership, positive role models, and allies are all crucial to keep inclusion at the top of the business agenda in a crisis, and can help your organisation emerge even stronger.