From navigating furlough to adjusting to mass remote working, the pandemic has impacted some of the core functions of the HR profession. There is no denying that there will be further changes and challenges ahead, but months on from when lockdown first commenced in March, we are able to get some sense of just how much the HR has changed as a result of Covid-19.

According to research conducted for the Hays Equality, Diversity and Inclusion 2020 report – based on a survey of over 10,000 professionals – one of the biggest changes caused by the pandemic has been to the ED&I agendas of organisations. In this blog, I’ll look at why it’s important for organisations to prioritise ED&I, the impact that flexible and remote working has had and give some actionable tips for HR professionals to keep ED&I progress on track.

Why does ED&I still need to be a priority?

Most employers have long-since woken up to the reality that a more equal, diverse and inclusive workplace offers many advantages for their organisation, from greater innovation to improved productivity and more. Our report also highlights the importance that professionals themselves place on ED&I.

We found that for four in five (81%) HR professionals, an organisation’s ED&I policies are important when looking for a new role. Furthermore, close to two thirds (61%) said they would only apply to an organisation which has a public commitment to ED&I. It’s clear therefore that from an organisational perspective, ED&I needs to remain a priority – particularly when it comes to attracting new talent.

Greater flexibility comes with ups and downs

Whilst some HR professionals may already have been working flexibly, but the rapid uptake of these working practices by so many professionals when lockdown commenced was unforeseen. Currently, over three quarters (77%) of those working in HR are currently in a flexible working arrangement and 81% say that this flexibility is important to them.

Encouragingly, 84% believe that Covid-19 has meant that going forward, employees will have more opportunities to work flexibly – which has the potential to positively shape ED&I across organisations. However, respondents also noted that working flexible can bring some drawback – such as feelings of isolation and blurred boundaries between their work and home lives. Furthermore, over a third (35%) believe that working flexibly has the potential to limit their career progression.

What employers need to do

It’s crucial that decision makers in the HR profession continue to strive for better when it comes to ED&I, even as organisations continue to focus their primary efforts on handling the economic challenges caused by the pandemic. If you are a senior professional or employer, here are our recommendations for keeping your ED&I agenda on track.

Make a commitment to ED&I: A diverse and inclusive workforce is no longer a unique selling point to prospective employees. Employers wanting to attract and retain the best individuals need to make comprehensive ED&I policies a core part of their talent acquisition and retention strategy.

Promote ED&I initiatives to jobseekers: ED&I policies including flexible working options need to be promoted at key points in the jobseeker journey, such as in job ads and on your organisation’s website, to avoid lowering your engagement with top talent.

Tailor your flexible working options: Flexible working isn’t one-size-fits-all. Employers need to realise that it offers huge advantages for some, but drawbacks for others depending on their role, working style and personal circumstances. Try to be mindful of and accommodating to this by remaining open to flexible working for all employees, not just those who are parents or carers, even after the pandemic eventually ends.

How employees can take responsibility

For ED&I to really press ahead, employees also need to recognise the responsibility they have. Here are some things to think about:

Look for an employer’s commitment to ED&I: If you are job searching, make looking for ED&I policies a priority. Organisations who are committed to ED&I are invariably more enjoyable to work and are more likely to thrive in our rapidly evolving world of work.

Think about your working preferences: What do you need to work at your best? Consider what your ideal working arrangement would be and discuss this with your employer. An organisation that truly fosters a diverse and inclusive environment will work with you to figure out a flexible working arrangement which best suits you.

Stay adaptable and practical: Try to remain adaptable and practical in light of your employer’s situation and the current circumstances. When discussing ED&I initiatives or flexible working, approach the conversation constructively and focus on how both you and your organisation will benefit.

Efforts from both employers and employees in HR are crucial to ensuring that the profession continues to do better where ED&I is concerned, especially during uncertain and testing times which many organisations are facing.

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