While demographic changes have informed and impacted our understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic – and our slow but inevitable emergence from the pandemic – will no doubt impact DEI issues in both schools and workplaces for generations to come. While addressing inequities and lack of diversity and inclusion had been a primary focus of DEI efforts pre-COVID-19, the COVID-19 pandemic and its related restrictions have prompted many educational and workplace institutions to emphasize DEI by promoting equity-focused leadership and hiring practices that facilitate greater diversity, equity and inclusion. These efforts are critical as we emerge from the pandemic, given that diverse employees in particular are struggling with many pandemic-related challenges, including furloughs and reduced hours due to homeschooling, child care, or other household duties. In addition, employers will also need to redirect resources to address the mental and physical health of their employees creating advancement opportunities for growth and facilitating connectivity with others both internally and externally.
The Delta-variant-exacerbated pandemic environment has focused greater attention on issues of career advancement, household responsibilities, and general health and safety, which arise more frequently with communities of color as compared to their white counterparts. The situation is similarly critical with regard to women, with more women on furlough than men since March of 2020, and working mothers more likely to have lost their jobs or been forced to resign or reduce their work hours due to childcare obligations and caring for elderly parents.
Several support mechanisms have been put in place in many industries. For example, a flexible approach to balancing home, work, school and extracurricular activities should be further analyzed. Also, where appropriate, remote working, either full time or on a hybrid schedule, should be considered by employers. The return to physical office spaces should be inclusive to those who may need to work from home for a longer period, with remote workers ensured of equal participation to avoid loss of opportunity. Employees with young children and aging parents for whom they are caregivers may need to work on flex schedules in order to adequately perform all of the job responsibilities associated with their position. In concluding, as we are now in September, 2021, it does not appear that variants of the pandemic are disappearing. Unfortunately, new variants seem to be coming into play on a daily basis. With these new variants, employers and employees will need to work together to make compromises to keep individuals employed and business going strong.