With COVID-19 in full swing, there’s a lovely sentiment that ‘we’re all in this together’, but is that really true? Is COVID-19 – or any pandemic or national crisis – really the same for everyone, or does it hit some of us worse than others?
Diversity, as we see it, is the range of human difference and each of us has layers of difference that make us unique, such as our gender, cultural background, language, religion, age, disability, life-stage, sexual orientation and identity, family, our thoughts, perspectives, education, and experiences. Diversity naturally exists in organisations because all of us are different.
Inclusion is the next step – where diverse people feel connected and have a sense of belonging. It occurs when we feel valued, respected, supported and welcomed, and an inclusive workplace encourages and inspires confidence for collaboration, teamwork, flexibility, and productivity. ‘Inclusion’ views difference as a strength.
The intersection of Diversity and COVID-19
So, with COVID 19 in full swing, we’ve been watching to see how the tone of the conversation might go and there’s lots of angles. With so many of us now working differently, how are the impacts being felt across the full diversity of our communities? Are our responses meeting the needs of everyone, or is a one-size-fits-all approach leaving some people out in the cold?
Is COVID-19 the same for everyone?
Here are a few of our observations:
People with disability
People with disability are often being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 because of significant disruptions to the services they rely on. Support workers and services have had to alter their approaches significantly – social distancing is virtually impossible for carers of those of people with severe disability. Many of those receiving NDIS support, can’t access their usual full services or support options as there are many limitations placed on accessibility of facilities. One of the mwah. team has been doing teletherapy for her son but it isn’t quite the same or as effective. When it comes to the NDIS review time will they consider that for some NDIS recipients, they may not have been able to spend their full funding on critical services needed, despite really wanting to?
Since the initial responses to COVID-19 we have started to see much better inclusive communications to enable information to get out to people with disability such as AUSLAN interpreters, large text and online accessible information. With the recently released Management and Operational Plan for People with Disability, it is hoped we will continue to see increased opportunity to ensure we consider key factors in managing and responding to emergencies.
There are also calls for submissions as part of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability into what can be done to prevent people with disability from experiencing abuse, neglect and exploitation during these emergencies.
From another perspective, many people with a disability are challenging why they have found gaining employment so difficult in the past, when we have just seen huge numbers of people being capable of working from home and still delivering outcomes for their organisations, without any problems at all. As we emerge from COVID-19, let’s hope we see increased recognition of the value of remote working and supporting inclusion rather than a focus on presenteeism in physical workspaces.
(There’s a great resource from WHO on supporting disability during this time – https://www.who.int/who-documents-detail/disability-considerations-during-the-covid-19-outbreak ) plus the hot off the press ‘Management and Operational Plan for People with Disability’ by Health).
People who are homeless
Obviously, Government advice to ‘stay home’ is useless for people who are homeless. They can’t stay home as they simply don’t have one. Sadly, living rough, or the underlying conditions that accompany homelessness, are also highly likely to make people who are homeless more susceptible to COVID-19.
If you add in that the vast majority of cities are now emptier with most people being in a position to stay at home, then they also are experiencing less donations as well.
Simply creating extra shelters isn’t the answer, with examples in the US showing that additional people in close proximity has led to further increases in COVID-19 in the community. In the UK, allocating hotel rooms to homeless persons and reducing those on the streets is helping, but there are concerns around having multiple people in hotel accommodation and there’s a need to provide additional supports such as counselling and social services which aren’t currently available.
An Increase in Homelessness
We’re also seeing some increase in homeless numbers because the severe economic impact of COVID-19 leads to increases in unemployment and an increase in those escaping domestic violence. Some Government responses, like increasing alternative housing options, have shown that we could potentially eliminate homelessness if we really wanted to and that’s something we would love to see when we emerge out of social distancing measures. Recognising the increased risk of spreading the virus via the homeless, some governments have been taking action to improve facilities offering a glimmer of hope.
Then we have pure biology playing a role. We are all aware that Age is a risk factor with COVID-19, with the death rate among the elderly higher than the general population. With more of a need to isolate, they are also now facing increased loneliness, missing out on visits from family and catching up with friends. Many are not able or confident to take advantage of technology to help them stay connected.
Also under the heading of biology is the uneven incidence of serious complications of COVID-19 by gender. Data collected from many of the countries most affected show that men are at a significantly higher risk of developing serious complications and dying than women. Science does not yet completely understand this, although it has long been accepted that women have a better immune response to viruses than men.
Other Gender impacts
The impacts of closing schools or encouraging parents to retain children at home for learning, has also had a varied gender impact. Many women are still the main provider of care in their families, and have now added teaching as well as working and caring. That said, there’s quite some variance. In families where both partners are working from home, the burden of care often still falls mostly on women, and new ways of organising the family have had to be negotiated. In other cases, care has been shared more evenly shared, before and during COVID.
In addition, there is a much higher proportion of women in the essential worker roles of teaching, health care, and the grocery industry, and that means that there are a number of families where the woman is now the only one working. This has been a learning curve for some, where they’ve found a new appreciation for what it takes to keep the family home running smoothly.
Design of your response
So, is COVID-19 the same for everyone?
The bottom line is this: If you’re an organisation working on your response to the current environment, don’t forget to apply the diversity lens to test your actions and improve the effectiveness and equity of your response.
Keep these key questions in the back of your mind:
- Is this an equitable and reasonable response that works for all diversity?
- Am I communicating this effectively to all?
- Do I understand the circumstances some of my employees/team are working under?
- Is wellbeing at the forefront of my response?
If we want to make sure we really are ‘all in this together’ then we have to work a little harder to take into account that we’re all very different, and some groups are experiencing this very differently than the majority.