There is no doubt that inclusion and diversity were big topics in 2020. We faced many crises, notably a health crisis, an economic crisis and a racial injustice crisis globally. Movements were started and there is still so much work to do.
As organisations and governments moved in order to meet the needs of a global pandemic, things that many of us thought would never happen – like full-time work from home – became our normal.
In a post-COVID world there are some things we would like to see stay, while there are other areas where there is still work to be done. If we ranked our progress, what would our report card look like?
We’ve collated our nation’s progress from an inclusion perspective. We’ve explored some of the key trends, breaking them up into the wins, what still needs improvement and areas where the jury is still out – where more critical thinking and listening is needed.
Telehealth granted us better access to healthcare
The pandemic was the turning point for telehealth offerings in Australia, creating further need for many people to access healthcare safely from home.
Early in the pandemic, Australia made some very vital changes to its telehealth operations, removing potentially years of legislation to make it accessible to all. These included incentives for healthcare providers to conduct telehealth visits and Medicare added telehealth services to its reimbursable covered services. In short, access and adoption improved rapidly. There were 40 million telehealth consultations (and counting) that occurred during the pandemic. Telehealth further highlighted the need for accessible health access for vulnerable communities who are often kept at the edge of system design. We now have the option to access repeat prescriptions without going into a clinic, meaning we don’t need to pay for a full consultation when it isn’t necessary. Telehealth has been heavily influenced by those vulnerable communities and because of this, we have all benefited.
The 2021 opportunity: We need continued telehealth offerings and to recognise alternative modalities. There is an opportunity to further reduce a reliance on ‘Dr Google’ and such misinterpretation, as people have more ways to access doctors and healthcare providers.
The hybrid office and virtual work model
Since the COVID-19 shutdowns, almost half of the Australian working population has spent time working from home. A global study from Atlassian has also revealed that nearly seven in 10 Australian workers say their job satisfaction and work-life balance has improved since the shift to remote work.
On another note, public schools get an A+ tick when it comes to COVID-19 response. Year 12 HSC results from 2020 prove this. According to the SMH, there were more public schools in the top 10 than any year since 2014.
The 2021 opportunity: As we continue to test and implement a hybrid office solution, it is vital we continue to implement Inclusive Design practices to ensure no worker is left behind in the establishment of the new norm. Technology has afforded many of us the flexibility to work from home safely, so ensuring accessible technology ongoing is vital.
Retail moved first
One of the most COVID affected industries was retail – with lockdown bringing major changes to the way we shop. Online shopping channels boomed and shipping providers such as Australia Post saw an unprecedented level of deliveries. Retailers needed to move quickly, implementing cleaning regimes, face covering recommendations, hand sanitizer stations, markings and signage for social distancing and QR sign-in codes.
The 2021 opportunity: Companies need to go back to customers first (rather than a ‘shareholder first’ model). We recommend Simon Sinek’s new book The Infinite Game, which explores this. We want to see retail prioritising health and community first, rather than waiting for regulation to catch up.
We couldn’t look at 2020 without talking about gender equality and the discrimination of women during the pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, women disproportionately withdrew from the labour market. Data from the 2016 Census shows the typical Australian woman spends between five and 14 hours a week doing unpaid domestic housework. For the typical Australian man it’s less than five hours a week. The pandemic saw both groups have an increase, but with women’s caring tasks growing disproportionately to mens.
The national gender pay gap, which is currently sitting at a 14% difference between female and male average full-time weekly earnings, was a major influence regarding the decision of who would take on unpaid domestic duties within the home. As with many things before the pandemic, COVID emphasised them. We saw this in domestic violence which saw a large rise, Almost 10% of Australian women in a relationship had experienced domestic violence during the coronavirus crisis, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology.
The 2021 opportunity: We’ve been talking about gender equality for many decades, through many lenses. The pandemic is just another example of the lack of gender equality within our nation. In 2021 we want to see change from a government level, all the way to our own homes, to change this.
Who is Australian?
The addition of JobKeeper payments and the increase of JobSeeker at the height of the pandemic were a welcomed relief for individuals and businesses nationwide. Despite the limitations of government payments, more than 1 in 10 Australians would have been plunged into poverty without JobKeeper and increased JobSeeker payments.
Unlike the UK, NZ and Canada, Australia did not extend our wage subsidy scheme to foreign students. This has caused a crisis for many of the half a million student visa holders who contribute billions of dollars a year in fees to our universities. PM Scott Morrison said Australia needed to focus on its own citizens and temporary migrants should go home if they could not support themselves. Despite this, many students stayed, noting that international borders were closed and the extremely high cost of travel at that time.
The 2021 opportunity: This raises the question. Who is really Australian? We need to ensure that individuals who are in our communities and contributing in any way, are looked after. These measures, or lack thereof, are not inclusive.
A cashless society
Since the outbreak of COVID, we’ve begun to see the conversation about moving to a cashless society pop up much more often. The obvious reason being that cash is a potential carrier of germs.
Many governments and companies around the world have worked to stop cash payments to help flatten the curve of the virus and support innovation. But a cashless society isn’t as inclusive as it sounds – creating harmful consequences for unbanked or underbanked consumers. Inclusively designed solutions need to include all consumers. There are 1.7 billion unbanked people across the globe. Elderly people, people living in rural areas and disabled people are among those who have been known to struggle with a digital model in other countries, such as Sweden. Cutting cash eliminates over a quarter of the world’s customer base. What about the many Australians who are fleeing domestic violence? Cash is a matter of survival.
The 2021 opportunity: Collaborative work with unbanked and underbanked communities to find a solution that works for us all.
Low marks, but room for improvement
In the unprecedented year of 2020, insurance saw a major upheaval and peace of mind flew out the window. Work from home coverage, landlord insurance, travel insurance, SME insurance and business interruption insurance are just some examples of insurance types that have experienced change during the pandemic. ‘Normal’ changed very rapidly in early 2020 and insurance companies weren’t necessarily ready for such a catastrophic event.
We’ve seen reports locally of some cases being taken to the High Court in order to find clarity on business interruption insurance. Just recently, the UK Supreme Court, Britain’s highest court, dismissed appeals from six insurers following the High Court’s ruling in September 2020. These rulings found the majority of disease clauses in relevant policies covered losses connected to the pandemic. This result is likely to affect insurers worldwide.
The 2021 opportunity: We need updated policies reflecting our new world and the global pandemic. As industries begin to rebuild, a major element of their success rate will be adequate and secure insurance.