Covid-19 is shining a spotlight on inequality: and it’s a call to action
COVID-19 is affecting all of us in different and personal ways.
From a health (and survival) perspective, however, it doesn’t impact everyone equally: you’re at greater risk if you’re poor, elderly, have a pre-existing medical condition (physical or mental), or if you are from an ethnic minority background.
It has been said that the virus “doesn’t discriminate” but the sad truth is that human beings still do. And here is how it plays out:
Asian and black patients are over-represented in critical care and account for a third of patients in hospital in the UK, despite making up a quarter of the population in the same areas. A study quoted in the Guardian on 16 April found that of 3,883 patients in critical care with Covid-19 BAME patients accounted for 33.6% (even though they represent only 14% of the population).
This is clearly confounded by the overlap between ethnicity and income – if you are less wealthy or live in more crowded, urban (polluted) settings, you’re more at risk. But that’s not the full explanation.
The Guardian also found that of 53 UK NHS staff who have died in the pandemic as of 16th April, 68% were from an ethnic minority background.
This is disproportionate, even if you account for the fact that the proportion of people from a minority ethnic background is higher in the NHS.
Data is still being collected and the reasons for this disparity are not completely established yet. Some speculations are that BAME doctors feel less able to complain about inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and put themselves at greater risk. BAME doctors are also more likely to be bullied/ harassed and “twice as likely not to raise concerns for fear of recrimination.” We await the report of the investigation into the disparity to clarify these explanations.
At a global level, as well as the physical manifestations of inequality, there has also been a rise in prejudice and hatred.
Anti-Asian harassment has increased, and this is not helped by the language being used, like President Trump referring to it as the “Chinese virus”.
Add to that the fact that countries are closing their borders, international travel has halted, and people are being forced to stay within the confines of their small bubbles – literally making our worlds smaller and more insular. This increases our sense of alienation from others, and heightens fear and “us-them” thinking.
The pandemic is highlighting, and exacerbating, many of the inequalities already present in our societies, and it is increasing our sense of fear, separateness and xenophobia.
We are in a diversity crisis, and it’s a call to action for leaders everywhere.
This is not the time to press pause on our diversity efforts, but rather, to redouble them, and to really fight for those values (corporate or societal) that we care about (and shout about on our websites!).
While it may be tempting to hide our heads in the sand, or become angry or defensive, we must find the courage to confront and combat the injustices that are being exposed by the virus.
We have to work even harder to make people feel heard and valued, whatever their background or personal circumstances are right now.
We have to work even harder to bring people together, even though they may be ‘remote’, and create a sense of community and belonging in our teams, organisations and societies.
We have to work even harder to monitor ourselves, understand the data and drive fairness, equity and safety for all.
If we are authentic and courageous in how we respond to this challenge, this poses a rich opportunity for improved engagement, learning and growth.
Don’t mistake this for a ‘soft’ target or a ‘nice to have’: it is core to our survival – as a nation, as a society, as a brand.
As this headline aptly states: “After this crisis, remember the NHS is not drained by migrants, but sustained by them.”