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Diversity and the pandemic: a European perspective by Irena Moozová, Director for Equality and Union Citizenship, European Commission

The Diversity Charter Lëtzebuerg sat with Irena Moozová, Director for Equality and Union Citizenship at the European Commission and Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers to get a concrete view of the European initiatives implemented to support diversity andinclusion in times of crisis.

At the European level, what practices / movements have you observed in terms of diversity &inclusion since the beginning of the pandemic? 

I have seen a large amount of different initiatives and actions that are being implemented in the Member States at national level as well as on organisational levels in individual companies.

Many helplines have been established specifically for dealing with mental health issues during the pandemic, to support elderly people, to provide help to the victims of domestic violence. Support to the people with disabilities is being provided for example via online interpreting for hearing-impaired people or video helpline for the deaf who need information regarding the coronavirus. Volunteering initiatives bring help to the most vulnerable groups.

There has been specific support provided to the Roma communities, refugees, homeless people, children from disadvantaged backgrounds and other groups that may be more severely affected by the impact of the COVID-19. 

Overall, I have witness a surge of solidarity actions at the European level among the Member States, at the organisational level and at individual level. 

What are the measures put in place at the European level that may support diversity andinclusion?

The European Commission has shown its commitment to fighting thediscrimination and promoting diversity andinclusion in its policies, guidelines and measures implemented during the COVID-19 crisis. 

For example, the European Commissioners Stella Kyriakides (Health, Food and Safety), Helena Dalli (Equality) and Nicolas Schmit (Jobs and Social Rights) have sent a joint letter to relevant Ministers in all Member States outlining the most pressing issues that need to be addressed regarding the vulnerable groups and explaining the support offered by the Commission to Member States to cushion the economic blow and protect people’s livelihoods.

They not only explain what are the main risks for fragile groups such as senior citizens, people with disabilities, victims of domestic violence, LGBTI persons, Roma communities, migrants and homeless  but also give a short description of EU funds and tools available at the disposal of national authorities to take the measures they deem fit to counteract the negative effects of the pandemic. These include the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII), Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII) Plus, European Social Fund (ESF), Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), Rights, Equality and Citizenship (REC) Programme, and the Justice Programme.

Can you share 2 or 3 best practices, in organisations, that appeared innovative to you?

I have seen so many exceptional examples of good and innovative practices put in place in organisations during this crisis to not only support their employees and clients, but also the society at large. It is therefore very difficult to choose from them, but these are a few examples:

IBM in Italy activated 24/7 Employee Assistance Program to help IBMers cope with anxiety, depression, work-related problems and other issues.

Swedbank developed tips on safe payments from home with special focus on solutions for older population – digitally disadvantaged group that Coronavirus has exposed the most.

NatWest Poland would usually have fresh fruit for all their employees delivered to their offices on a weekly basis. Rather than cancel the service now that their employees cannot use it, they have decided to redirect the deliveries to the hospital of the Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration. This way their supplier will not lose their contract, and the hospital will receive weekly deliveries of fresh fruit for healthcare professionals and patients.

Even though physical events linked to celebrating Diversity Day(s) had to be postponed, are there other ways to celebrate diversity during this crisis? 

As the primary focus of the organisations and companies right now is the safety and wellbeing of their employees and clients, they dedicate most of their resources to their support.

I am, however, very happy to see that whenever possible, organisations decided to go ahead with their originally planned activities celebrating diversity, by transferring and adapting them into virtual format. Hence, instead of trainings, seminars and coffee meetings, they are organising webinars, online trainings to fight stereotypes anddiscrimination, publishing articles in newsletters, launching photo contests and online quizzes on various Diversity&Inclusion topics. 

Why organisations should continue working on their diversity policy/actions during this pandemic?

The pandemic has had an effect on the working environments and patterns of all of us. However, the impact can differ based on our socioeconomic status, job specification, family structure, living situation, immigration status, or the ability to adapt to the virtual alternatives to daily work. The coronavirus crisis exaggerates existing inequalities, making diversity andinclusion even more essential.

Moreover, situations and behaviours that may have negative impact on certain employees can go even more unnoticed due to the changes in the way we work and live these days. For some people it may be much harder to make their voices heard during teleconferencing, others may worry about how their work will be evaluated while working from home. 

That is why organisation have to educate themselves on conscious and unconscious bias to better recognize and reduce both. They must continue to identify behaviours that create situations where people feel marginalized and remain committed to building an inclusive culture in ways unlike ever before.

Do you think that this pandemic will impact the perception of diversity and its influence?

Many people worry, that in the post-corona virus world, when we may face economic challenges in our society, there will not be much space or willingness to dedicate time and efforts to the promotion of diversity at work. I believe that while going through difficult times, organisations have a unique opportunity to differentiate themselves through empathetic leadership, support of organizational equity and focus oninclusion of the diverse needs of the workplace. 

I think that diversity allows to be more open and creative and find new solutions and responses to the challenges ahead of us. I am convinced that diverse and inclusive workforce will be critical to organisational continuity and diversity andinclusion will be as important, if not more so, as we move from shock into emergence from the pandemic effects.

Published on 13 May 2020