Protecting equality at a time of crisis

Protecting equality in a time of crisis

By Hári Sewell and Dr Karen Linde

Posted: Thursday April 16 2020

Crises such as the global coronavirus pandemic provide opportunities for leading equality in a positive and proactive way.  This blog by Hári Sewell and Karen Linde offers some pointers that leaders may wish to take on board.

Crisis are often times when strength and resilience shine through. Rules and processes that need to be adhered to during stable times are sidestepped or amended to enable timely responsiveness.  We have seen in the response to the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic that fiscal management rules, freedom of movement and even civil liberty protections under the Mental Health Act have been amended.

One unintended consequence of ‘decisive action’ is that the rules and procedures that were established to ameliorate the effects of bias also fall by the wayside.  Instructional leadership styles that have a place in a crisis, with all limitations exposed in critical literature and theories, potentially re-emerge as the gold standard.

Biases might arise from what has, perhaps unconsciously, been internalised as norms. A social group or sex may more frequently be ushered into a type of role or position.  For example, in thinking of who could rapidly step into a role leading on your organisation’s coronavirus response it is possible that in searching for ‘right skills’ you unconsciously also include an assessment of ‘best fit’, a concept that by definition is an expression of bias (for further information on the examination of the ‘best fit’ concept see NHS England’s ‘A Case for Diverse Boards’.  In the Covid-19 pandemic, the top team of the rapidly erected Nightingale Hospital in London were all white.  Roger Klein, author of ‘The Snowy White Peaks of the NHS’ (a white man, for the record) made the point on Twitter that this top team was not reflective of the senior NHS workforce in London. Many replies stated that the priority was to have the right team, or that the top team having ‘inclusive values’ was most important……