How workplace inequality grew more apparent during the pandemic

DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION: There’s nothing like a crisis to expose weaknesses in an organisation. That’s exactly what happened with the pandemic, which showcased some glaring problems in diversity-focused recruitment, talent management, and leadership in scores of employers around Southeast Asia.


Numerous reports show that diverse groups, which include women in the workforce and people with disabilities had the hardest time, both in the workplace and with balancing work and home life during the lockdowns that were implemented across Southeast Asia.

But even before the global health crisis struck, the progress in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and the economy was, according to many observers, generally slow. 

A report by McKinsey and Company shows that women in particular are worried about the health and safety of on-site workplaces, as well as the potential impact of those issues on their mental health. They are also more concerned than men about increased household responsibilities, indicating that “double shift” continues to be a gendered issue around the world. Seventy-three percent of working mothers reported having struggled with household responsibilities and mental health concerns compared with 65 percent of working fathers.

Women were also highly concentrated in sectors that suffered particularly high rates of unemployment during the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, including hospitality, food services, and retail.

Meanwhile, employees who identify as not hetrosexual have feared losing ground at work and reported feeling isolated. “Allyship”, where employees are empowered to be their authentic selves and better allies at work to those who find that difficult, was proving useful in both social and work settings.

But the pandemic reset a lot of that work, and many non-hetrosexuals felt an increased sense of isolation during the lockdowns and compulsory work-from-home periods that took place throughout Southeast Asia. 

McKinsey adds that employees surveyed did not feel these challenges were temporary. This means companies should prepare for several factors to have an outsized impact on diverse populations over the long term, even as the economy and workplaces adapt to the post-pandemic reality.

The community of people with disabilities (PWDs) was also among the most disenfranchised sectors at the height of the pandemic. In Southeast Asia, many PWDs were working in the informal sector, often self-employed or working for cash in a variety of roles.

The tight lockdowns implemented during the early months of the Covid-19 crisis that limited movements to essential workers only meant job and income losses for PWDs.  In response, the governments provided stipends for highly affected sectors including PWDs but many did not receive aid. 

PWDs experience employment discrimination like other marginalised groups, placing them at greater risk of job loss during challenging times. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, PWDs suffered job displacement or intentionally left their jobs to protect their vulnerable health.

Some governments, including Indonesia and the Philippines, enacted laws to increase PWD representation in the workforce. In August 2022, Singapore’s Minister of Finance unveiled the Enabling Masterplan 2030 which aims to have 40% (about 10,000) of working-aged PWDs employed in the formal economy. But despite these laws and masterplans for the PWD sector, social stigma remains and continues to present barriers for the community in attaining decent work and exercising other rights. 

Therefore, the reality for persons with disabilities must be a wake-up call for governments and businesses to create inclusive policies and above all, enforce rules and regulations that safeguard the community’s interests strictly and proactively. 

Read the full report here.


Share This Article


Advertise Now

Click to zoom
What's in it for you?
Click to zoom

Chief of Staff Asia