COVID and business: creating a working cultural transformation

You could look at the current rate of cultural transformation regarding Black Lives Matters and changes in how we do things via COVID-19 and think we’re in the midst of some kind of revolution. And that may be true to a certain extent. The tipping point has come on so many issues. COVID-19 is forcing us to understand ourselves in ways we never expected.

However, it looks more to me that we’re undertaking this cultural transformation because the added pressure of COVID-19 is the final straw. There were pockets of awakening social justice movements. There were businesses already putting their ethics on display. But now we’re realising that we cannot keep going the way we were going in so many respects.

Here are some of the ways large and small this cultural transformation has been happening in Australia and influencing how we do business as well as feeding back to the change itself

Women creating their own jobs/work life balance

a bit of chalk is written on the sidewalk- it reads 'together we will change the world' - which is a common sentiment during this time of cultural transformation
Photo by Priscilla Gyamfi via Unsplash

If you have a look at the unemployment figures from COVID-19, women have been the hardest hit. Work itself needs to undergo a massive cultural transformation. As someone that runs a support network for Australian freelancers, I know that women make up 75-85% of the freelance market. Most of the time, it’s because women have been unable to return to work after having children.

A lot of places add flexibility to their workplace ads, but not many have truly embraced it. That was until COVID-19 arrived.

Having people work from home has now become the normal operations. Something that I hope stays within the mix once we’re clear of the virus.

Remote work creates work opportunities. It allows greater access to women in the workplace. It also creates greater employment opportunities in remote and regional Australia while improving overall wellbeing.

This cultural transformation had to occur in the long run anyway. Sydney and Melbourne are increasingly difficult to afford. Women are tired of being shut out of the workforce. And understanding that remote work can be done without concerns about who you can or can’t trust, the need for surveillance and may even boost productivity is massive. Especially when Australia has been so resistant to opening up the workplace for so long.

Disability pride is growing

The same inflexible workplace problems also face Australians with disabilities. Whether these disabilities encompass the physical, mental or invisible, 1 in 5 Australians are disabled. And many have had to face barriers in the workplace due to inappropriate support mechanisms. 48% of Australians with disabilities are employed compared to 79% of the general population.

It’s interesting to people with disabilities that everyone is having such a hard time with the concept of working from home, limited mobility, having situations outside your control limit your access because these are the things we deal with on a regular basis. We’re like a seed bank of information, helping you cope with the idea of spending more time at home.

Also, the COVID-19 messaging of “only the sick and the elderly die” highlights the fundamental ableism within society. The assumption that disabled people are collateral damage during a pandemic gave rise to more voices than usual. Which is hardly surprising, considering how offensive a message it is.

We know a significant proportion of disabled Australians are unemployed. What isn’t always discussed and investigated is how the traditional workplace doesn’t allow for people with disabilities to participate.

The assumption is that due to disability, we can’t work. But the reality is with a change in contact hours, better architecture, better public transport and actual flexibility in the workplace, a lot more disabled Australians could be employed.

We’re running our own cultural transformation. We’re creating our jobs through blogging, freelancing, content creation, advising on accessibility and patiently educating a world built from a position of health that there is benefits in listening to us.

It’s not without it’s teething problems.

There’s internalised ableism within the scene that creates unnecessary divisions. There are people in representative roles that have a history of bullying and creating segregation regarding who is and isn’t disabled enough. And workplaces attempting to embrace disability still have a long way to go in understanding that it takes more than simply tacking on a ramp or adding a toilet.

But at least we’re getting somewhere.

B Corps

B Corps (or Benefit Corporations if you’re being formal) are probably the most well-known version of social justice based business at the moment. At least, the most formalised and recognised version. The aim of a B Corp is to place the focus on setting social and environmental standards. It’s also about transparency and being more accountable.

The reason why B Corps hold such appeal is we have a standard that is set by the business but is also consistent across the range of businesses that subscribe to it.

Consumers care more about where their money goes. They want to know that what they purchase is ethical, sustainable, and that people are not harmed in it’s making and manufacture. It’s about caring for people, planet and profit.

There’s a lot said about the B Corps self-assessment process. It’s voluntary, the terms are defined by the company signing up, and B Corps may not face rigor from B Labs if things change.

Is this a bad thing? Of course, it would be lovely to have something that is far more centralised. And have something that was enforceable. Perhaps this is the future ideal beyond a code of conduct. We do have to remember that the majority of eco printing certifications in Australia started with a voluntary code and the same sort of self-assessment. It also continues with locally made certification and how that works.

There are issues with the self-assessment and voluntary code style. However, it’s a starting point. And it’s proving that people do care about whether or not a company has some form of standards.

During COVID-19, B Corps have offered targeted support to registered businesses working through 2020 and these testing times.

Shop Local movement

With disrupted supply chains and also the desire to help local businesses through dire times, the shop local movement has really gained momentum under COVID-19.

We’ve become hyperaware about local economy movements. Businesses like cafes have pivoted to being general stores. Bridal shops have become places that make face masks. There was a movement away from big supermarkets to local produce and providores.

This ties into people wanting to know where their products are coming from and what impact their purchase can have on the local economy.

The biggest change seems to be that once the convenience is removed, many items no longer hold the appeal they once did. This is an opportunity I believe for local businesses to maximise the situation and create connections.

With the help of Wollongong City Council’s Creative Wollongong Quick Response Grant scheme, I experimented with matching up Illawarra freelancers with local Wollongong businesses via Get your Gong on. The resulting virtual networking event proved that people felt more confident and connected with their local talent. It also demonstrated that visibility is a big part of what is needed to ensure the vibrancy of local scenes.

We need to go through a form of cultural transformation that allows us to be proud of our local areas and engage in business in real terms.

Universal Basic Income

One of the most interesting things that history has taught us about large scale economic depressions is that keeping money in the hands of the people reduces the impact. By having money in the pocket to spend, we have the ability to keep people spending. And the more people that spend, the more the economy is protected from collapse.

You can call JobKeeper (and a lesser extent the increased JobSeeker) whatever you want- but we all know this is pretty much on its way to Universal Basic Income. By assuring people that they can meet the standards of living, we have enabled an economy to thrive.

I mean, let’s be super honest about the situation- the cultural transformation is a right-wing government using a socialist policy to keep things ticking over. But it’s also basic maths. If people have money to spend, they will spend it. If they don’t, they’ll withdraw more money from circulation to stretch it further, creating the conditions for greater collapse.

A lot has been said about part time employees receiving full amounts. Or people actually receiving more money than they usually get paid.

What we need to understand is this is not irresponsible or probably not even a mistake in real terms. It was about making sure that cafes didn’t collapse entirely. Or that we didn’t end up with mass homelessness.

What remains to be seen is how it will work in September and beyond.

Cultural transformation is the new cool

Gone are the days when profits were protected beyond all else and people didn’t matter. Gen Z are said to be the most environmentally aware, death literate, mental health positive, inclusion orientated generation we’ve ever seen. They are ripping the Band-Aids and blinders right off the old forms of business and asking for more.

As it should be. It’s time to understand how to do things better. And that a human-based economy has to be built on community principles that create opportunity for humans. What we need to do is move beyond the cynicism we may feel about the changes as they occur and embrace them. Foster an environment where business, marketing and the whole story reflects an intelligent, sustainable and long-term approach to the world.

We’re feeling the right amount of pain to make a really long-lasting and effective cultural transformation in the business sector.

How exciting is that?!

If you want help making true strides to inclusion and cultural transformation, get in touch now.

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