Catherine Hall: Equality, diversity & inclusion – breaking from the shackles of Covid
Catherine Hall, a member of the Policy and Practice Team at CIH Scotland before leaving to pursue a PhD in environmental law, discusses equality, diversity and inclusion in the aftermath of COVID-19.
As we continue to better understand Covid-19, there exists a growing realisation that the virus was not in fact ‘the great equaliser’, nor was it indiscriminate.
Whilst the world faced the same storm, lifeboats were not available for all. The impacts of Covid have fallen unequally and disproportionately across society; along ethnic, racial, gender, occupational and socio-economic lines. The pandemic has served as a spotlight in exposing the interconnected, yet inequitable world, that we live in. Covid has not only magnified these pre-existing inequalities, however. It has also deeply exacerbated them. If society is to truly break free from the shackles of Covid, we must end these societal vulnerabilities that arise from discrimination and inequality.
The fractures within our society have become ever more conspicuous since the advent of Covid. At the same time, the racially motivated act of violence which led to George Floyd’s murder sparked universal conversations that cut through global consciousness and focused the world’s minds, having invigorated a movement of epic duration and proportions. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and
Breonna Tayler, alongside the disproportionate economic and health impacts of Covid, have served as a stark reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination and inequality that underlies society. However, perhaps this provides the perfect storm for an unexpected, yet unprecedented, moment in history to reflect upon the challenges that we face as a society and make real change.
We can no longer live through the glasses of one lens. Covid-19 has thrown these far-reaching disparities into sharp relief, and it is vital that moving forwards, we learn from the lessons of the pandemic. Embedding equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within the heart of our vision at CIH is vital to both understanding and representing the individual people and wider communities that we serve.
As housing professionals, we must share our stories authentically if we are to go beyond a mere ‘tick box’ exercise, drive the agenda forward, and permeate a meaningful EDI culture throughout our organisation. We must demonstrate our commitment to the creation of an inclusive environment where people are not only treated equally but are also given the confidence to embrace their individuality, as well as a valued platform to voice their distinct life experiences and cultures. Only then can we begin to dismantle lingering stereotypes, ingrained prejudices, and discriminatory structures.
At CIH, we have formed an internal EDI group to help drive positive change throughout our organisation. We have also created an external EDI group so that we can learn from the experiences of other organisations outwith the sector to help inform our work. Part of our work is also our commitment to internal training, so that we can better equip our staff to feel comfortable talking about these issues and challenge our organisation to make real change. This includes writing resources as part of our membership with the Housing Diversity Network, alongside building inclusivity and diversity into our professional standards. We also ensure that our events embody a clear focus on EDI, from the direct inclusion of this topic to ensuring that our speakers are representative of different members of society and that their voices are heard.
If one thing is clear, it is that crises – such as Covid – are a reckoning. They expose the cracks, what is broken and what needs to change. Centuries of oppression and inequality remain engrained with our society. Paying lip service to the issue will only instigate change at the superficial level. We need to evolve our teams and champion leaders that reflect the growing diversity of society. We need to tackle discrimination at the structural, institutional, interpersonal, and personal level, and this includes holding our own selves accountable.