Have you wondered how to foster remote and hybrid diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace? Many companies have approached me for consultation regarding the development and implementation of their strategy for returning to the office and establishing permanent work arrangements for the future of work. In my interviews with dozens of mid-level, and senior leaders at many of these organizations, I found that the issue of diversity and inclusion came up time and time again. So what can you do to address DEI effectively in our brave new world?
Challenges to Achieving Remote and Hybrid Diversity
Michael, the CEO of a mid-size B2B tech service provider, was struggling with DEI issues even before the pandemic. He wanted to make his company more attractive to minority groups.
The company hired a very diverse pool of workers at the rank-and-file level, but it had trouble retaining them. Thus, the higher up in the organization you looked, the less diversity you saw.
The company tried to address these issues previously, and had some moderate success. However, the pandemic completely derailed these efforts. As Michael’s company figured out its footing after the pandemic, it could now turn its attention back to the previous DEI priorities.
Of course, their needs changed, as did everything during the pandemic. Thus, Michael brought me on as an expert in the intersection of hybrid and remote work with DEI to help address their challenges.
Minority Concerns Regarding Hybrid and Remote Work
Do you think minority groups, such as African Americans, want more or less time in the office compared to white people? Take a few seconds to come up with a guess.
Here is the answer. Slack conducted a survey on this topic among knowledge workers – those who did their work based on their expertise – and divided it by demographics.
They found that 21% of all White knowledge workers wanted a return to full-time in-office work. What would be your guess as to how many Black knowledge workers wanted a return to full-time in-office work?
The answer: only 3% of all Black knowledge workers would want to return to full-time work in the office. That’s a huge difference!
What explains this enormous disparity? Well, unfortunately, Black professionals are still subject to discrimination and microaggressions in the office. They are less vulnerable to such issues when they work remotely much or all of the time.
In addition, Black professionals have to expend more effort to fit into the dominant cultural modality in the workplace, which is determined by traditional White culture. They have to do what is called code-switching: adjusting their style of speech, appearance, and behavior. That code-switching takes energy that could be spent better doing actual productive work.
Similar findings apply to other underprivileged groups. That includes not only ethnic and racial minorities or people with disabilities, but also women. For example, research by BabyCenter shows that 29% percent of new mothers would choose remote work options over a $10,000 increase in annual pay. No wonder that only 65.6 percent of mothers with children under 6 participate in the workforce, compared to 93.9 percent of fathers with similarly aged children.
Practices to Promote Remote and Hybrid Diversity and Inclusion
Addressing Communication Issues
Research shows minorities deal with bullying on video calls and harassment via chat and email, as well as other online settings. Another problem: surveys demonstrate that men frequently interrupt or ignore women in virtual meetings, even more so than at in-person ones.
So when bullying and interruptions happen in virtual meetings, take the time to address why it is happening. You can say something like, “Please let them complete their point before asking questions. Use the raised hand function so that we can come back to your suggestion afterward. ”
Setting up a Hybrid Monitoring Program
To help increase equality within your team, create a formal hybrid and remote mentoring program. This setup is especially important for women and other underrepresented minority groups in the higher ranks of organizations.
Research shows that one of the primary reasons such groups fail to advance stems from the lack of informal mentoring and sponsorship. Given the increased challenges for mentoring hybrid and remote employees, your mentoring program must benefit minority groups. Doing so requires ensuring accountability by requiring reports from mentors and mentees on their progress.
Another great tool is training that focuses on dissuading discrimination during virtual meetings, chats, and emails. This will help your team build skills in avoiding such problems and especially help minorities feel supported as you build a more collaborative atmosphere.
By acknowledging these problems, you can create policies to address these occurrences and regularly check in with your team as you build a collaborative atmosphere.
Conducting Internal Surveys
Creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable office culture requires recognizing these problems and taking action to remedy them. An easy way to start advocating is to conduct internal surveys to determine those issues.
The best surveys will ask your minority staff about their experiences with the problems outlined above and other diversity-related challenges. Also, ask them what they believe might be the most effective ways of solving these problems. Integrate the best solutions they propose into your plans to address the situation.
You have probably heard the famous phrase, “what gets measured gets managed.” Once you know the nature and extent of the problems, you can work to change them systematically, rather than only in one-off, ad-hoc situations. Measure the problem, create a plan to fix it, then measure how well you are improving it.
Implementing a Diverse and Inclusive Culture in the Workplace
I advised Michael to follow these best practices to create a workplace that works for everyone.
The firm conducted an internal poll to evaluate the hurdles to diversity and inclusion. It found that many minority employees felt they did not have a voice at work due to interruptions and microaggressions at meetings. It also found that the lack of diversity among higher-level leaders discouraged minorities from trying to advance and made it hard for them to approach leaders for sponsorship.
Michael’s company implemented policies to address these issues. That included training in effective remote and hybrid communication and collaboration, with a focus on addressing the concerns of minorities. It also included setting up a hybrid and remote mentoring program to help minority groups. He also started several employee resource groups focused on providing support for employees from underrepresented backgrounds. Finally, the company held monthly “diversity talks” focused on diversity and inclusion to ensure that people from all backgrounds feel valued and heard.
Six months after instituting these changes, Michael had great news to share. The company has seen significant improvements in employee satisfaction ratings from minority employees. The number of minority employees who felt their manager is fair and respectful increased from 63% to 87%, the number who felt included in decisions at work went from 48% to 79%, and those who felt respected by coworkers and believe their ideas are valued by management grew from 54% to 82%.
The lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion is a serious problem for any forward-looking company. To maintain a competitive edge, companies need the best people available to work in a diverse, inclusive environment. With the emerging trend of hybrid and remote work arrangements, people from underprivileged groups can overcome many of the barriers they face in a traditional workplace that have prevented them from being successful in their careers. In order to create an inclusive diversity strategy, leaders must address communication and sponsorship issues within their organization by setting up mentoring programs and virtual training.
Written by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky.
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