Here's How to Foster Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in a Remote-Work World
Remote work can promote diversity, equity and inclusion, but it also comes with potential challenges.
Remote work has taken the business world by storm. Now, more jobs are remote than ever before. But what impact does remote work have on your company’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals? There are some pros and cons I’ve seen that may inform your perspective on remote work and its impact on DEI.
As a 100 percent remote business owner, my consultancy has thrived. But it hasn’t been without challenges. So, we’ll explore why remote work can be a good (and bad) thing for DEI and strategies I use to keep DEI a focus in my remote business.
How remote work can promote DEI
Remote work allows your business to hire a more diverse workforce
Remote work can allow you to hire people from all walks of life. There are talented people all over the country and world who, for a myriad of reasons, can’t leave their current geographic location to work for your company in-person.
With remote work, you can still access a large pool of applicants in any location. Remote work is especially helpful if you’re in a market where there’s not a large pool of people of color, but you value having more racial diversity in your workplace. If you're thinking of hiring remotely to increase the diversity of your workforce, there’s evidence that that’s a good idea. One study showed some companies can have up to a 35 percent increase in financial performance with a more ethnically diverse workforce. So, regardless of location, a remote-work situation can allow you to hire a diverse workforce that contributes positively to your business’s bottom line and culture.
Remote work can help marginalized groups feel a greater sense of safety
For some people, going to work in certain environments can make it clear that they stick out like a sore thumb. It can be uncomfortable to be a highly visible minority in the workplace. Many people of color and LGBTQ folks often have to code switch, or adjust their language, demeanor and appearance, in order to survive in the workplace. According to one study, 48 percent of college-educated Black adults under the age of 50 felt the need to code switch in order to fit in with their fellow colleagues. Working remotely can help some groups feel more comfortable, safe and authentic at work without the social dynamics and microaggressions that may come from a traditional work environment.
How remote work can hinder DEI
Many marginalized professionals feel invisible in the workplace if they’re remote
On the contrary, some groups prefer to be in the workplace, so they can experience more social connection. Remote work can make some employees feel invisible and isolated. One study found that 19 percent of survey applicants felt lonely while working remotely. Many people enjoy connecting in the employee lounge or stopping by each other’s desk in between tasks. This can have a positive impact on inclusion and support a happier social environment.
If your company has a remote-work environment, you may have to work harder to promote high levels of connectivity and meaningful check-ins to ensure employees still feel connected.
Working remote in a clean, quiet and private environment with strong wifi is a privilege that many don’t have access to
As we’ve seen over the past year, not everyone can work from home in a clean and quiet environment with high-speed internet. For many people of color, working from home is a struggle or downright impossible. One study found only one in five Black workers and about one in six Hispanic workers can work from home in their current profession.
Then, there’s people who work from home with children. People who have children at home may need to handle simultaneous tasks, which may pull them away from their work commitments. Balancing children and work in one environment can be daunting and challenging for many.
There are also folks who live in rural environments who may also have less access to high-speed internet. According to this study, 24 percent of rural households in America have trouble getting access to high-speed internet, which is essential for a good remote-work environment.
And, of course, some people simply don’t have homes that are suitable for remote work, whether it’s because of the size, location or condition of their home.
How my fully remote business stays dedicated to DEI
My consultancy business has been 100 percent remote since day one. But it hasn’t been without trial and error. We’ve managed to grow substantially as a remote business because we’ve followed certain practices that keep DEI a focus. Here’s how we make our fully remote company work.
We keep intentional communication at the forefront of our work
We communicate on many levels to ensure no one falls through the cracks. We hold strategic one-on-one check-ins between managers, between clients and with executives. We assign teams to different accounts so no one person is overwhelmed with too much work. We serve as thought partners with our clients and consistently over-communicate to find the best strategies possible for their company’s DEI goals. In a remote-work environment, things can get lost in translation. By keeping high-touch points and making intentional communication a crucial part of our workplace, we’re able to be as clear, compassionate and connected as possible, which keeps DEI at the forefront.
We have a generous PTO policy
As of 2021, we’ve decided to offer four weeks of paid time off for all of our employees. In an environment where race, class, gender and disability are constantly discussed, burnout can be a huge problem. With a generous PTO policy, this allows all of our employees to take a step back, decompress and take time for their mental and physical needs. In addition, some of our employees have children or care for older family members. They need that time to separate from work and focus on the people in their lives that truly matter. This helps our employees find a work-life balance, which supports our mission for inclusion and equity in the workplace.
We nurture a culture of compassion, empathy and concern
In our company, we don’t let remote work stop us from expressing compassion and empathy. We’re constantly seeking to understand where our employees are coming from, how they’re doing on the day-to-day and what we can do to support them. If someone is struggling, we jump in to help. If someone needs a day off, we don’t shame that person. If someone has to have his or her camera off, we express compassion. In a remote-work environment, expressing compassion and empathy when someone may be silently struggling is very important. The more intentional we are in supporting each other and being available, the more successful we are as a team.
In general, fully remote work environments can be a good thing. Your business can have access to a diverse pool of candidates that contribute immensely to your company. However, it can also cause some candidates to feel disconnected and unproductive. The choice is yours to make whether a fully remote or mixed-remote environment would work best for your company. It’s been a blessing for my consultancy business. We’ve been able to employ people from all over the country to help businesses in their regions reach their DEI goals. And we’ve been able to do it by focusing on intentional communication, generous PTO and compassion.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor