Inclusion during COVID-19 times


Elena's daughter, aged 18 months, hard at work

We are living in uncertain times. COVID-19 has catapulted into our lives and radically changed our social interactions and the way we do things. The world around us, and each and every household and workplace across the globe, is adjusting to a new normal.

There are positives and plenty of learning that is coming from this situation.

For starters, appreciation of the things we now long for, such as meeting friends and family, grabbing a freshly made coffee from the shop or attending an event.

The physical barriers that are keeping us apart have reinforced how important it is to maintain a sense of community – to belong. We seek inclusion more than ever. Online coffees, quizzes, virtual exercise classes and even virtual get-togethers for a drink have proved a success across our business at EKFB. You are probably doing it too, whether at work, or at the weekends with your friends and family.

On the other side of the argument, lack of inclusion has revealed a nasty ugliness, as we've seen from the disproportionate number of BAME people who have passed away due to the virus. While we wait for the varied research being carried out to identify causes, early indications suggest that socio-economic factors based on rooted exclusion of minorities are potential culprits behind such ugly stats. We simply need to do better as a society.

Another exposed fact is the capability of working remotely. For those who can - and current statistics indicate that almost half of the active workforce in the UK are doing it as I write - it is proving that the job can get done, even with children in the house. Difficult to juggle, in my experience with a toddler but do-able. And most importantly, the well documented benefits of home working are now forcibly out in the open: travel cost savings, carbon footprint reduction, improved work-life balance. Flexibility will soon phase out 'presentism', if it hasn’t already.

In all, our values have been shaken to the core; and going back to normal is not, in my view, good enough. We need to push on with inclusion and wellbeing agendas in our workplaces with even more emphasis than before, and actively create social value for our communities.

In the context of construction, we cannot just look at what we are building, but how, by whom and what we leave behind long after the job is finished. We will not only be known by what we build but also by the amount of boys and girls we inspire to become engineers, the barriers we broke to get underrepresented groups in the workplace (and into positions of leadership), the local businesses we helped thrive – I could go on.

One of my favourite quotes is from the late American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, which is quite appropriate to illustrate my point: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” We all need to feel included.

In the midst of a pandemic, there lies an opportunity. An opportunity to build a sustainable, fairer and more inclusive society, one workplace at a time.

EKFB has been accredited as Leaders in Diversity and we were recently awarded “Best EDI Steering Group” by the National Centre for Diversity. We are currently working towards Disability Confident Level 3.

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