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Quarterly Issue 3

CMI CEO Ann Francke on how COVID-19 can make companies more diverse

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 12 Sep 2020

Post-pandemic changes could be creating a more inclusive working culture but managers need to spot and capitalise on the opportunities, says Chartered Management Institute CEO Ann Francke

Many workplace trends that were widely talked about pre-pandemic have become everyday reality, such as digital transformation, flexible working, agile management styles and employee-centric, communicative leadership. Businesses implemented these at pace and scale to hold on to revenues and keep workforces safe. At the same time, according to research, this crisis has hit women and minorities hardest. 

But this situation creates an opportunity for those willing to grasp it. The management trends and behaviours that COVID-19 has accelerated are precisely those that help create more inclusive cultures where working parents and minorities can thrive. Employers who retain these practices as an integral, conscious part of their recovery can emerge with a more diverse talent pool and a better, more inclusive, culture. This, in turn, will enhance their performance. 

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, which has been a great leveller and made for greater participation from the under-represented who wouldn’t normally be in a management meeting were it to be office-based. Similarly, everyone is working flexibly, not just working parents. Many ‘nay-sayers’, who thought working from home was an excuse for doing nothing, have seen that staff do actually work, and many more productively. This has helped, in some cases forced, many managers to place greater trust in their staff.

Communications and virtual visibility have boomed as well, with CEOs, leaders and teams engaging much more regularly with each other and the broader business. Many of these have placed added emphasis on mental and physical well-being. Staff are more regularly consulted about changes within an organisation, too.

Companies that preserve these practices as they recover will benefit from the boost in their ability to attract and retain diverse talent. An overwhelming 90% of managers in CMI research say that it’s important employers offer blended working. This requires a conscious effort by leaders. Ensure that you bring back diverse groups, encourage everyone to blend time in the office with time at home, keep important communications virtual to put remote colleagues on an equal footing with office counterparts, and continue to emphasise employee well-being. These steps will be critical to keep a more inclusive culture in recovery.

Many very capable and experienced women and ethnic minorities will find themselves out of work – snap them up, especially in industries where they remain severely under-represented. 

Diversity delivers results and brings competitive advantage. Now, more than ever, as we rebuild the economy, we need diversity to matter.