Shelina Janmohamed, Vice-President of Islamic marketing at Ogilvy Consulting, explains why COVID-19 proves diversity is as crucial as ever

If we’ve learned anything over the past few weeks, it is that we are all in this together and there’s no discrimination by the dreaded virus. However, that doesn’t mean that we are all affected by the virus in the same way or that the measures being implemented to constrain its spread affect us all equally. The reality is that the virus in fact exaggerates existing issues. Privileges, such as access to healthcare and the ability to work from home, are magnified, while inequalities, including job insecurity and health status, are sharpened.

Against the backdrop of this new normal, it might be an understandable instinct to hunker into what we perceive to be core business issues, removing subjects such as diversity and inclusion from the to-do list and relegating them as "nice to haves". But the truth is that ensuring diversity and inclusion are firmly at the top of our agenda is more essential than ever – for the here and now, as well as for medium- and long-term business success.

To explain why the practicalities of diversity and inclusion must remain firmly on our agendas, let me offer the example of the advice being given to households about self-isolation.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said that in the coming weeks anyone over the age of 70 must stay at home for "extended periods of time", and people without symptoms can visit but stay two metres away. Taking social distancing seriously for older people is important. But the advice missed an important reality for people from ethnic-minority backgrounds – which is that non-white households are much more likely to be multi-generational. Therefore this approach to self-isolation is much harder to apply and specific guidance is required. 

According to the Resolution Foundation think tank, while only 30% of white households aged 70-plus have younger people living with them, that number is radically different when it comes to South Asian households (80%) and black African or Caribbean ones (50%). This means that isolating older family members is not about avoiding visits. Plus, these households typically tend to be lower-income and have less physical space.

If you have diversity firmly on your agenda, it is immediately obvious that a one-size-fits-all strategy is not going to work here. It didn’t work in a pre-Covid-19 era and now it is more vital than ever. In fact, it is so important that it may literally be a matter of life and death. 

We are all adjusting with urgency to this world and so the spotlight on this incident isn’t about apportioning blame. Instead, this is a clarion call to ensure we keep our focus on the importance of diversity, meaning understanding and engaging with the diversity of our audiences. 

By extension, it also means keeping focus on the diversity of our workplaces. To get a diverse mix of views and expertise takes proactivity in this new world of remote working. You can no longer stroll past someone’s desk to get an opinion, but that may not be a bad thing. Too often, the few diverse voices that existed in an organisation felt under a spotlight to offer opinions on subjects on which they had no professional expertise, only being asked by dint of being from that community. Therefore, this is a good chance when soliciting opinions to seek out, engage and draw on opinions that are rooted in expertise and diversity.

The bottom line is this: diversity must remain firmly on the agenda, for the sake of our communities as well as our businesses.

This article was originally published in Campaign here.