Living in challenging and uncertain times

The outbreak of COVID-19 means that we are living in challenging and uncertain times. Unprecedented change is happening on a daily basis for businesses, communities and individuals alike and this can feel somewhat overwhelming.

Alongside change also comes the rising level of fear that we all feel on some level or another – remember the mass panic-buying of toilet rolls, pasta and chickpeas? These behaviours all stem from fear: fear of scarcity and fear of a loss of control. If left unchecked, fear can exacerbate in-group/out-group behaviours by breeding stereotyping and can ultimately lead to discriminative behaviours.

Fear can create a real barrier to diversity and inclusion within our workplaces and in our communities at large, so it is even more important for us to think about diversity and inclusion as we go about our day-to-day lives and start to find our new sense of normality. It is important for communities to work together but, in order for us to do so, we need to be aware of how the pandemic and associated changes may impact individuals in different ways. Below are some changes to consider through a diversity and inclusion lens.

The effects of the pandemic are being felt unequally
We have been advised that the pregnant, elderly, physically disabled or those with underlying health conditions may be at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19. It also appears to affect men more severely than women. Aside from the physical effects, the widespread socioeconomic impact of the virus can be unequally felt across gender, ethnicity, age and socioeconomic status. For example, women make up 77% of high-risk workers, 80% of unpaid carers and 69% of low earners and, as women are generally the primary carers for children, the closure of schools means juggling family and work is more difficult than ever before.

In addition, people from low socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to suffer from underlying health conditions and therefore are at a higher risk of contracting the virus, yet they are more likely to put themselves at risk by going to work to earn an income for their families due to the drastic decline in their household income and limited savings or support from family or friends to help them out.

The impact of the pandemic on mental health
Everyone has to take care of their mental health and it is important to recognise how the pandemic affects people’s mental health in different ways. Those with mental health conditions may be experiencing depression and anxiety on a far greater scale than usual. People may be dealing with increased stressors, such as the loss of a loved one, job uncertainty or job losses, greater levels of domestic violence, racial abuse or discrimination, in addition to the economic impacts of the pandemic, all of which affect individuals in different ways.

Some individuals may be more reluctant to seek support as a result of their personal or cultural upbringing and so it is important to have an awareness of these issues, be able to recognise the signs that someone may be struggling and reach out to offer support. Creating an environment or a ‘safe space’ that allows for non-judgemental, open and honest communication, where individuals feel comfortable to discuss how they feel about what is happening in the world and the impact COVID-19 has had on them, is also important for individuals to maintain their mental wellbeing.

It is worth noting that the lockdown may have actually had a positive effect on mental health as a result of reduced social pressures, reduced work stresses and the ability to spend more quality time with family.

There are lots of free resources available from 
Mind and NHS Every Mind Matters about how to manage our mental health and regulate our emotions during a pandemic.

Changes to how we interact and communicate
From the lockdown came a rapid rise in online communication, which has helped us to maintain both our personal and professional relationships. Digital engagement could be key to broadening participation, reaching a larger geographical spread and breaking down barriers to access for many individuals. For example, online events or webinars could engage individuals with autism who need to avoid noisy spaces due to experiencing sensitivity to sound or for those who might find networking overwhelming, such as introverts and people with depression. However, it is also worth being mindful that online communications may create barriers for those who are deaf, hearing impaired or whose first language is not English.

Changes to how we work
With major changes to health & safety regulations within the workplace, it is important to be aware that individuals from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) or low socioeconomic backgrounds may be more likely to accept what is offered to them at work, such as workplace PPE, risky placements, unsafe rotas or a lack of remote working opportunities, and are less likely to speak out or raise concerns about health & safety issues through fear of not wanting to be seen as different, vulnerable or as a problem.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of flexible working and, while working from home has become the new norm for the vast majority of people, it is important to consider how different people cope with and are supported with working from home, for example neurodiverse individuals. It is also important to consider the impact of different personality types on motivation and working from home and those who are juggling childcare.

Being aware of biases in ourselves and others and committing to challenging them
Fear can create a ‘blame’ culture within society and can exacerbate stereotypical biases. Biases may lead to discrimination based on factors such as cultural or religious beliefs, ethnicity or gender. An increase in discrimination and harassment towards Asian minorities has already been seen as a result of the pandemic, which can have an adverse psychological impact on those individuals, lead to isolation in the workplace and make them less likely to call out inappropriate practices.

Stereotypes are maintained and reinforced by powerful mental biases that filter out information that contradicts or challenges pre-existing beliefs or attitudes. These biases are usually unconscious and so it is important to be aware of biases, bring unconscious thoughts into consciousness, challenge them and ask yourself whether your thinking is based on factual information before you take action.

One key thread throughout the pandemic is to ‘be kind’. You have no idea what another person is going through unless you walk a day in their shoes. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to keep diversity and inclusion at the forefront of our minds to make our workplaces and communities more equal, inclusive and diverse, addressing imbalances as part of our coronavirus response.

How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? Is there anything BINDT can do to support you during this difficult time?

If you have any thoughts or ideas, or are interested in joining the D&I Advisory Group, please get in touch:

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