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Pandemic-Era Shifts in Work & DEI Series - Polarisation & Activism

6 minute read

What a tumultuous time the past two years have been! The pandemic-era (which we are still in) has been a massive, rapid-paced experimentation with new ways of working. It has brought about a profound shift in how we think about work and the future. There are still many open questions and evolving data. We have written an article series covering some of the emerging trends that we’ve categorised as ‘Purpose’, ‘People’, ‘Process & Policy’, and ‘Polarisation & Activism’. Plus, we share reflection questions on what these shifts might mean for DEI in your context during this highly ambiguous, fast-changing time.

This is the article covering the POLARISATION & ACTIVISM trends. You can also read the other 3 articles (PEOPLE, PROCESS & POLICY, and PURPOSE) on the Inclusion Nudges blog, as well as the full article.

Polarisation & Activism

As we remerge from lockdowns, there’s a range of emotions that we all are feeling—sadness, loss, fear, lack of control, and anger. This spills over into society. Research from 17 countries showed that 60% of people feel that we are more divided now than before the pandemic, and this has increased by 30% from pre-pandemic rates.

At work, new challenges arise, such as the ‘no jab, no job’ policies. Requiring vaccinations to return to the office or interface with colleagues and customers feels to some people as the right thing for the public (and personal) good, while for others it’s a controlling step too far in their lives. Frustration and fatigue are high around the world, with over 50,000 protests related to the pandemic. ‘COVID rage’ shows up with increasing accounts of customer abuse towards workers, especially in the hospitality and service sectors where up to 80% have witnessed or experienced this. Against these issues, we also have an increasing of wider inequalities with who has access to the vaccination, and thus potential for restarting economic recovery. The gap between the haves and the have nots could not be more stark.

In addition to the pandemic polarisation in many countries, a lessening of trust in public officials and civic institutions has been building over years. A global research study in August 2021 showed that Millennials and Generation Z’s lack of trust runs so deep that they have higher “faith in governance by system of artificial intelligence than by a fellow human being. … They are fed up with ongoing concerns of corruption and stale political leadership, as well as the constant threat to physical safety caused by surveillance and militarized policing against activists and people of colour.” The tragic murder of George Floyd in May 2020 brought about an increase in Black Lives Matter and anti-racism activism in over 60 countries. This, and many other issues of inequality and discrimination, have become active discussions in society and work.

Employees (as high as 76% in one global research) are now expecting and demanding their workplace leaders take a stand on key social issues. And employees are energised to take action themselves if they feel it’s needed. A global survey in August 2021 showed that 60% of employees feel empowered to be change-makers in their workplace. While “75% globally said they would take action to advance urgently needed changes to their organization, with 40% saying they would go public through whistleblowing, protesting, or social media posts.” Additionally, in the U.S., there has been a resurgence of employees’ interest in labour unions to safeguard human rights at work and to be a part of re-designing organisations’ cultures. During the month of October 2021, more than 25,000 workers were on strike, as compared to an average of 10,000 during the previous 3 months.

Clearly times have changed, but have organisational leaders taken note?
Perhaps not, as respondents to a global survey said that only 48% of their employers are acting on its values. This carries the risk of lowering trust, leaders’ credibility, and engagement. With that, The Great Resignation continues—33% quit when the employer “didn’t speak out about a societal or political issue the employee felt it had an obligation to address.” The era of the silent executive on DEI issues has gone, as is the tolerance of nice sounding public statements with no change. The standard is now to be an inclusive leader who is an ally by action.


Reflective questions


  • What statements about diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI) have you and the leaders in your organisation made in the past year?
  • Did you and your leaders feel equip to develop these statements (understand the issues, the language, the need for accountable action, etc.)?
  • Have these statements been followed-up with concrete actions? What was the impact? Has this been shared with others? If no was action taken, why not? What can be done to address these action-blockers?
  • If you expected a worker-led public protest to happen tomorrow, what do you think/feel the cause would be? What do you know about your organisation that supports this view? What has been done to address this issue so far? What were the results? Has this been communicated? What more needs to be done? Who should know about this issue? What is blocking progress happening?

Closing Notes:

Thank you to Barry Phillips for inviting Lisa to give an HR Master Class as part of Legal Island’s support for DEI change makers. In that September 2021 session, Lisa presented some of these pandemic-era research trends and led a discussion on what it could mean for DEI.

We hope this summary of research on emerging workplace trends from the pandemic-era has sparked new areas to reflect upon as you focus on DEI and inclusive leadership in your organisations. If you would like to engage us for advisory consulting, coaching, and speaking, please do reach out to us at tinna_and_lisa@inclusion-nudges.org

These Inclusion Nudges can support reflection:

Show Data to Easily See Problems & Do Actions in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook and Inclusion Nudges for Motivating Allies

Alternative to Diversity Excuses in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook

Images Framing Immigrants as One of Us in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook

Re-frame ‘Migrant’ to ‘Human’ in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook

Anti-Xenophobia Campaign Realising What We Lose in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook

Counter Stereotypes Using Images & Social Media in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook

Want to read more? See these other blog articles:

SERIES: The Pandemic-Era Shifts in Work & DEI: Read the other 3 articles in this series (PEOPLE, PROCESS & POLICY, and PURPOSE), as well as the FULL ARTICLE.

Ally by Actions - Not by Posting on Social Media
Ally Through Empathic Perspective Taking
Ask Lisa & Tinna: How Do I Create New Inclusive Workplace Models?

Want to learn more?

The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook for change makers gives you 100 examples of Inclusion Nudges

Inclusion Nudges Guidebook

The Action Guide series are shorter plug-and-play guides with 30 targeted Inclusion Nudges:

Inclusion Nudges for Leaders

Inclusion Nudges for Talent Selection

Inclusion Nudges for Motivating Allies

You can learn more and get other free resources on the Inclusion Nudges platform inclusion-nudges.org

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