Opinion from the Scotland Hub - The Equality Pandemic: A Call to Action

2.3 million women have left the workforce in the last 12months

39% of roles held by black people are at risk

1 in 10 16-25 year olds have lost their job through COVID

The impact COVID-19 has had on diverse groups is starting to materialise and although we have all been navigating this global pandemic, it is clear we have not all had the same experience.

As the ICRS Scotland Hub members came together last month to discuss our role in tackling the inequalities exasperated by the pandemic it became clear, based on the emerging data, action is needed today.

Some researchers are stating the pandemic has set back gender equality by over two decades and with the World Economic Forum predicting 257 years until gender parity, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. The full impact on all diverse groups still hasn’t been fully realised.

What is clear is that there will not be one new normal. And this provides an opportunity for us to strengthen our businesses, to build resilience, future proof and be the catalyst for change.

Two in five companies have increased their diversity and inclusion spending, however, nine out of ten executives report challenges in delivering strategies. The gap in intention vs creating change is a challenge facing many leaders.  Employees are pushing for change on topics of equality and the emphasis now sits clearly on business leaders to take authentic action.

And this was a key conversation shared amongst corporate responsibility and sustainability professionals, how do we influence, engage and support leadership teams to overcome challenges of equality?

An emerging theme was the importance not only of investment but a commitment to long-term action and measurable targets. Themes of choice, trust and culture shift are top of the agenda. Creating a culture where we measure performance on outputs and outcomes needs to be led from the top. Policies and ways of working need to transform to focus on a future where everyone is empowered to succeed and again this can only be driven from leaders. 

As we build back from COVID-19 there are opportunities to set long-term targets and strategies that businesses can hold themselves accountable to. And this is the message corporate responsibility and sustainability professionals are taking to leadership teams.

During the pandemic over half of the workforce have felt stressed and over one third close to burn-out. The issue of equality is not solely related to diverse groups, but a growing wider conversation almost every employee is involved in. Now health and wellbeing, home circumstance, work/life balance and income are all in consideration, making equality a wide-spread challenge businesses simply can’t afford to ignore.

A common murmur spread across our virtual ICRS event was the fear that we quickly return to what once was and that  key opportunities to make fundamental change are missed. Our rallying call is for leaders to take action, hear the voice of your colleagues and your community, and build back better for everyone.

The ICRS Scotland Hub is peer led network for corporate responsibility and sustainability professionals, providing a platform to share, learn and collaborate to drive long-term sustainable change for everyone. You can sign up to their mailing list here.