Could the Covid-19 pandemic drive us closer to a fairer work-sphere?

, by Shaima Chachai

Could the Covid-19 pandemic drive us closer to a fairer work-sphere?

“Unprecedented times” seems to be the catchphrase of the year. With the worldwide economic shutdown that we have faced in the past few months, many professionals have had to adapt to the online job market at record speed. While it is hard to deny that this shift to the digital world has brought about its fair share of trouble, it has also evened out the playing field for a significantly wider, and more diverse base of job seekers.

Prejudice (in all of its forms) and non-inclusive work environments are a well-known obstacle for many members of marginalized groups when seeking employment but the process of online applications could potentially reduce judgement based on any defining characteristics that could may hinder an individual’s ability to excel in the job market such as: race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious practices etc.

Moreover, the novel working from home environment that employees have encountered in lieu of traditional office settings due to the restrictions that have been put in place around the world has sparked some interesting conversations. It is now easier than ever for disabled people to apply to positions that weren’t previously available for them, something that should make us reevaluate how necessary it is to perform certain activities in a mandated workplace, as opposed to doing them at home.

From Diversity Charters to specific agencies tasked with ensuring diversity in the workplace, Europe has proven its commitment to the fight against discrimination, but still, the main response tends to be the widely unpopular diversity training.

Even though these activities are designed and marketed as an educational module to help participants work with colleagues from different backgrounds in an effective way, studies show that in practice they achieve quite the opposite.

As ineffective as they may be, they, along with company specific equality policies are the most common measures put in place so far.

Instances of prejudice stem from such deep rooted issues in our society that it would be idealistic at best to expect them to be challenged in the duration of a three month course, so it would be unfair to not recognize how difficult it is to achieve a perceivable change in individuals within organisations given the limited time and resources at their disposal.

Even if the intentions are right, we might need a few more steps to ensure their execution. Computers are arguably as unbiased as it gets when presented with cold hard data. So a possible way to ensure the full implementation of an inclusive selection process could be to simply go digital. As dystopian as it may seem for some, to replace a human process for a binary one might just be, ironically, the most human approach.

In this time that we have, before a vaccine is brought out and COVID-19 is under control so we can return to the “good old days”, we should take a moment to reflect on what we can take away from this experience.

Perhaps, online allocations of certain positions could open the job market to a big portion of the disabled community. Online applications might reduce selection biases and harassment issues. These are but a small fraction of the lessons that the digitalization of the economy can bring about.

We are now in a unique historical position where we have been forced to adapt to a semi-worldwide economic lock down and yet many big businesses have still thrived by switching to the world wide web and, perhaps unknowingly, making their vacancies more accessible than ever before. As workers, we have the prerogative and the power to demand a fair assessment and equal opportunities for all job applicants, and this could be one of the solutions.

Whether this is the best answer or not, can be discussed in the future, (once enough data is available to make a judgement) but it is surely one of the paths that we should explore, towards a more modern and equal society. We must reconsider the seemingly unchangeable monolith that is our contemporary economic infrastructure. For if we allow ourselves to reassess what we can improve as a society, before returning to our oh, so beloved “precedented” times, we might as well take a metaphorical Great Leap towards the future.

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