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By Lizzie Gull

As the world struggles with the pandemic, for some women it has intensified biases that have long existed under the surface. With schools being shut along with the announcement that children at home should not be cared for by grandparents or other vulnerable adults, a backward development in partnerships was felt, with the responsibility for managing children and their education at home mainly falling to mothers, pushing both men and women back into more traditional roles.  

While a study done by Jim Reid (2020) found that some aspects of lockdown were enjoyable, such as more family time and not having to travel to work or taxi children around, it was also shown that the experience of lockdown had a large physical and mental toll, especially for women. An ONS (2020) survey highlighted that, of parents who were home schooling, one in three women agreed that it was negatively affecting their well-being compared with one in five men. Following on from that, many were faced with the choice of struggling to manage a triple shift of paid work, housework and emotional work, or reduce their hours which may result in a loss of progress that they had made in their careers.

For those that experienced this heightened triple shift new biases emerged, as explained in a recent McKinsey study (Women in the Workplace, 2020). One example of these new biases is the fact that the perceptions of women may change when their young children are seen in the background of virtual meetings, potentially fuelling a subconscious assumption from co-workers that these women are distracted and so less committed to their jobs. This is especially significant in performance reviews which may become biased, especially given that working from home lowers the visibility that managers may have into employee’s day-to-day work.

Balanced with the fact that working from home has made many employees feel like they are always on, as it is now harder to make distinctions between work and home, Covid, and the unrelenting pressure on parents to home school their children whilst also working, could force many mothers temporarily out of the workforce. In fact, according to the Women in the Workplace study, one in three mothers have considered career breaks or lowering their job title due to Covid. This could have significant social consequences, with less diverse workplaces which would lead to a lack of role models for women at all levels, and less women in senior positions able to mentor and sponsor other women.

Whilst many of us are now starting to see the light at the end of a very long tunnel in terms of the Covid crisis coming to an end, a survey done by Eurofound (2020) showed that in July 2020 over a third of employed respondents reported working exclusively from home.  Considering that prior to Covid just 15% of those employed in the EU had ever teleworked (European Commission, 2020), the challenges faced by those dealing with the sudden shift to telework were to be expected.

However, as this is starting to become the new normal, with many companies looking at continuing working from home more often than they did before the pandemic, there is now a need for organisations to do what they can to deal with these challenges in a way that ensures equality in the workplace, and retain the employees most affected by today’s crises.

To an extent, this is already being done, as many organisations have taken positive steps to support their employees during the pandemic, keeping them informed on how to access furlough schemes, providing resources to aid remote work, and expanding mental health services.

Fewer companies have taken steps to adjust the productivity and performance expectations set pre-Covid which may now be unrealistic. These steps may involve re-establishing work–life boundaries, for instance, by putting policies in place for responding to emails outside normal work hours. Whilst the measures that a company will be able to take will depend on its size and financial situation, the most critical factor which most companies should be in a position to address is open and frequent communicationso that everybody in the company feels valued and able to voice their issues if they feel they are struggling to cope in the workplace due to the added challenges of the pandemic.


Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period.

See our website here for more details on how we can help you: https://www.britishchamber.be/

By Elizabeth Gull

This year the death of George Floyd jolted not just America but the world and inspired the Black Lives Matter protests. During the protests a quote by @lifewcourt resonated with me on this issue:

“I’m not black, but I see you
I’m not black, but I hear you
I’m not black, but I mourn with you
I’m not black, but I will fight for you”

I want to continue to fight because this issue does not stop when it’s no longer viral.

Diversity is often talked about as an ideal world scenario and then pushed to the bottom of the list when other commitments take precedent. This is especially true at the moment because it is hard for companies to prioritise diversity when COVID has caused many businesses across a range of sectors to struggle for survival, and HR departments have been preoccupied with the task of ensuring the safety of employees through social distancing and PPE.

This October marked Black History Month, a period to reflect on the narratives that have shaped Black culture. So in this article I want to highlight something that often gets lost in conversation, which is that diversity matters for more reasons than simply to keep things fair. Diversity is good for business.  A McKinsey study, which is linked below in the crowd sourcing section, proved this when it found that ethnically diverse companies were 35% more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile for diversity. This report underscores the importance of focusing on increasing the representation of voices around the table and layering that with a culture where people feel safe to use their voices authentically and fully contribute their ideas.

It is clear that having a diverse and inclusive environment is the smart thing to do for your company, so here are some practical measures that can help create a diverse and inclusive work environment:

Crowd sourcing solutions from our members.

Here are some picks from our Diversity & Inclusion Committee who have shared with us the books, films and podcasts that have impacted them on this issue:

  1. Read the McKinsey report Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters  which shows that the most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.
  2. Listen to the Intersectionality Matters! podcast which is hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw and looks at the reality of race and gender bias to show that if you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you’re likely to get hit by both.
  3. Head to the BBC to watch The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files where presenter David Olusoga uncovers a story of racial prejudice at the highest levels of government, exploring how the Windrush Scandal was rooted in buried events that happened 70 years ago.

The UK is a place where we are free to have these conversations and celebrate diversity. For instance, if you want to be inspired by some of the positive things that British people have done to inspire others to explore their heritage then this article on ‘five projects shining a light on black culture in the UK’ is a really nice read.

Moreover, there are many people in the UK who have succeeded despite the challenges. Following the 2019 General Election, 65 or 10% of Members of the House of Commons were from ethnic minority backgrounds and the number of MPs from ethnic minority backgrounds has increased at each general election since 1987. There is still more progress to be made in Parliament, because if the ethnic make-up of the Commons reflected that of the UK population there would be about 93 Members from ethnic minority backgrounds. However, the progress that we have made should be celebrated and if you would like to find out more about ethnic diversity in politics and public life, click here.

If you would to learn about the wider global context, here are some resources from outside of the UK:

  1. Stream Dear White People on Netflix, a series that follows a group of students of colour at a predominantly white university to highlight the issues that still plague today’s ‘post-racial’ society.
  2. Read What Should White People Do? by Linda Martin Alcoff who explores white attempts to move towards a proactive position against racism that will amount to more than self-criticism.

Measure your progress.

Ensuring diversity in the workplace is a journey that we learn as we go from others ahead of ourselves on the journey. Nobody has it 100% right. Following on from that, it always helps to be able to reflect on how far you’ve come, so commit to goals at board level and track your progress which will help to prove success.

One such goal could be to tackle subconscious preconceptions. These preconceptions can have a negative impact on your business, especially in the recruitment process as the candidates best positioned to help your company grow may be overlooked. The first step to avoid this is to be aware of it which could mean providing training to help your employees learn how to think more openly and so get a better understanding of a person’s professional capacity so that skin colour is not the deciding factor in who gets hired and instead the best person for the job is the one who gets it.

This requires challenging people’s assumptions. In an interview some examples of how to do this would be to cover up the names on resumes, set up diverse interview panels, and ask every candidate the same questions.

Other goals include setting up a Diversity and Inclusion Committee and meeting regularly to have open discussions both about what may need to be improved and also about what your company does well for diversity. This article is for Black History Month and so talks particularly about issues of ethnic diversity, however it is important to discuss all forms of diversity such as gender, class and age etc.

As you increase diversity, celebrate it!

Often those who don’t have a role model will not put themselves forward for jobs or promotions, so make sure to encourage mentoring from those in leadership positions so that they can become the cultural role models who inspire others.

In Britain, we are lucky enough to have phenomenal black role models: Mo Farah, the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic Games history, John Stewart, first black British male MP, Cynthia Erivo, first black British actress to be nominated for an Oscar award- the list goes on. Yet, more needs to be done to make this list known, and to allow it to keep expanding.

It is also important to embrace the diversity of thought that comes hand in hand with an inclusive workplace. Assembling a team that acts and thinks in the same way is often fairly easy to do, and in such teams consensus will be reached on most issues without much debate. However, unless all your customers also think the same it is a difficult task to grow your business with this homogenous workforce. You want to create an environment where people feel their input is valued, even if it goes against the way you would normally expect things to be done, because through this your business can discover new ways of doing things and successfully lead through change.

We are not trying to point fingers. We are by no means perfect. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. However, establishing diversity and inclusion measures in your workplace is not only the right thing to do, but will also infinitely benefit your business, too.

Think you are embracing diversity of thought? Take the diversity of thought assessment by the Glenn Llopis Group here to find out.

Finally, at the British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium we would love to hear from you. If you have had any experiences as a business with these issues then feel free to leave a comment or send an email to eucommittee@britishchamber.eu to let us know your strategies for overcoming them.


Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period.
See our website here for more details on how we can help you: https://www.britishchamber.be/

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