Our latest article in the series looking at the impact of the pandemic on different groups focuses on how COVID-19 has affected those within ethnic minorities, what this has meant for the BLM movement and what employers can do to better support employees.
Impact of COVID-19
The latest statistics all point to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected those within ethnic minorities. A report by Public Health England has found that there are higher infection and death rates amongst those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups than White ethnic groups.
Commentators have suggested that whilst COVID-19 does not discriminate it does expose existing inequalities within society. Questions remain over whether the increased infection and death rates are due to biology and pre-existing health conditions or whether it is an exacerbation of those existing social inequalities, with many ethnic minorities also being within the poorest and most disadvantaged groups.
Aggregation of groups not helpful
The Institute for Fiscal Studies highlights that the impacts of the pandemic are not uniform across ethnicities, and aggregating all minorities together misses important differences. Some minority ethnic groups may well face greater infection risks because of the types of work that they do. For example, people from the Pakistani, Black African and Black Caribbean ethnic groups are over-represented among key workers overall and face continuing risks from contact with contagious individuals. It is clear that unless minority ethnic groups are looked at individually it is difficult to understand the true impact of the pandemic on certain minority ethnic groups.
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) takes this further by stating its view that the term BAME is no longer helpful as it disguises huge differences in outcomes between ethnic groups. The report suggests that recognising the differences between groups requires a new and more granular approach to data and how it is collected and used. Too much data continues to be collected using the main five ethnicity classifications: White, Black, Asian, Mixed and Other, which in some instances merges together ethnic groups with vastly different experiences and outcomes.
Acknowledging the potential issues with using the term BAME, it remains a categorisation in wide use in research. In addition to the impact on health, a detailed YouGov survey states that the post-furloughing fall into unemployment had been most common among workers from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, with 22% of BAME workers falling out of work.
The CRED was set up following the Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd in the USA just over a year ago. These protests sparked a country-wide shift in how we view and talk about racism, something that was long overdue. What became clear was that although a lot of people would deny obvious instances of racism, many were falling short of acknowledging more covert and often subtle ways in which discrimination takes place. An example is affinity bias, also known as similarity bias, which is the tendency people have to connect with others who share similar interests, experiences and backgrounds.
The work of the last year has been the beginning of the process to dismantle some of the embedded prejudices and unconscious bias that exist. However, the pandemic has surely made progress in this area slow going, with workplaces closed and people working from home, making it difficult to implement new policies or change cultures within organisations.
What can employers to do help?
The importance of focusing on diversity and inclusion in the workplace is paramount in enabling all colleagues to feel comfortable at work, feel respected and to be themselves.
As a minimum, employers should consider:
- offering unconscious bias training,
- reviewing recruitment processes to remove bias,
- creating platforms where diversity and inclusion needs can be heard, and actions can be implemented.
This is not just for the good of employees but also for the progress of the business as a whole. Many organisations now require specific diversity and inclusion credentials of their suppliers and businesses need to be able to demonstrate that they take such matters seriously to get through a tender process. For instance, a large UK utilities provider requires its suppliers to report on a quarterly basis on the seniority, gender, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation of people involved in the work they carry out as well as demonstrating their recruitment outside of Oxbridge and red brick universities; their experience with blind CVs; and their actions to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Diversity is fundamental for maximum productivity and overall business success. When employees of different backgrounds, different cultures, different nationalities and different perspectives come together, everyone shares a slightly different approach to the job and the problem at hand which can be extremely beneficial.
“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.” — Sundar Pichai.