We all know the exercise. During the pandemic, office closures, workers were working from home… and companies discovered it wasn’t all bad.
With half of employees looking to continue work from home and the other half running back to the office with open arms, companies are weighing the potential benefits of remote, hybrid and flexible work arrangements.
In the wake of the ‘Great Resignation’, some are saying that offering remote and hybrid work options could even help create a more equitable work environment by leveling the playing field, allowing for greater flexibility and micro-aggressions people of color often face confrontations in the workplace.
And a number of studies support this by showing that diverse talent is right rather looking for remote options. This comes at a time when tech companies are coming under closer scrutiny to improve diversity and inclusion (D&I).
As a result, a number of opinion pieces have emerged encouraging tech companies to offer remote and hybrid work as a means of attracting more diverse candidates.
But before you start posting a storm of vacancies, we need to stop and think. Offering more remote and flexible work opportunities may make our companies more diverse, but will it also make them more inclusive? And will these benefits be enough to retain diverse talent in the long term?
It’s not that simple. Here we take a closer look at data collected by Techleap.nl and D&I experts from the fast-growing Dutch tech scene.
As Slack discovered in its recent Future Forum Pulse:
“Executives, white knowledge workers, men and non-parents are choosing to work in the office at higher rates, increasing the risk that proximity bias may anchor existing inequalities.”
While remote and flexible work options can make for easier working conditions, it can also create a new divide between those who are in the office and those who work online.
When it comes to salary and promotion opportunities, it’s the ones seen on a daily basis that are top of mind. When it comes time for performance reviews, how do managers rate the performance of their remote employees versus those they see in person every day? These are just some of the many new complexities that the future of remote, hybrid and flexible working may bring.
To improve D&I, we need to dig deeper into the possible side effects.
Furthermore, diversity is an umbrella term that encompasses so many different people and situations, making introducing new D&I processes a complex undertaking with many variables to consider. What may have positive consequences for one group may have negative consequences for another. Even within one group, the impact of a new initiative or process can have different effects depending on your perspective and even unintended spillovers.
There are now a number of articles generally claiming that hybrid and flexible work approaches improve gender equality. But if you look at the research conducted to date, you may see mixed results. While some studies show that remote working gives more working mothers the flexibility they need to stay in the workforce, others show that initiatives like this can reinforce traditional gender roles.
A good example is the Dutch experience with part-time work. While the introduction was intended to help more parents achieve a better work-life balance, it resulted in: more women than men who work part-time.
While it means that mothers do indeed continue to participate in the workforce, while women work fewer hours, it also widens the gender pay and promotion gap.
Are we doomed?
No. But in introducing such a profound change as hybrid working, we need to be more aware and aware of how, what and why we are introducing these changes and how they will affect other processes in the organization.
All of this means that if we really want to improve diversity and inclusion with a new process or initiative, we need to dig deeper into the potential side effects and think carefully about what we want to achieve.
People mean different things when they say hybrid work.
Whether or not you adopt a hybrid work structure to attract more diverse talent, the future of work is headed in this direction and as such we need to consider how diversity and inclusion will play a role in moving forward.
We spoke to two experts to find out how we can build more diverse and inclusive hybrid and flexible work structures.
Start with data
Here in the Netherlands, a recent report by means of Techleap.nl, Diversity Heroand the NLdigital Taskforce Diversity & Inclusion and supported by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate + Booking.com showed that while the Dutch tech ecosystem has made some improvements, there is still a long way to go.
The report, launched during TNW Conference 2022, was the first time that the Netherlands introduced a benchmark specifically on D&I for the tech industry, which represents 30,000 employees. It found that:
- Women now make up 30% of digital industry leadership positions
- 21% of technical positions are held by women
- 22% of women hold senior technical positions
However, the Netherlands, like the rest of Europe, suffers from a lack of diversity data, with gender being the only indicator regularly monitored by tech companies. The report found that 70% of companies do not track ethnicity data, while disability, socioeconomic background, orientation and neurodiversity are among the least (if ever) followed indicators.
One of the authors of the report, Yeni Joseph, Leader of the Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce by NLdigital, explained why it is essential to start tracking this data now:
If we actually measure the current situation of D&I in the workplace, we know better which interventions are needed to accelerate change and improvements. And this really allows us to actually measure the impact/effect of those interventions.
By having D&I data, companies can set specific KPIs, goals and targets (and treat them as seriously as, say, sales targets). Because all too often there are no specific D&I KPIs, there is no consequence for not meeting D&I targets, as these are seen as ‘nice to haves’. We know that ‘what is measured is done easier/faster’. Especially for companies in the technical space that are used to making decisions based on data.
By participating in an industry benchmark (such as the D&I in digital benchmark by Diversity Hero) companies can compare their own efforts and results with those of others in the industry to actually know where they stand. If they do it right, that’s something that helps them attract new, diverse talent. If not, they can learn from peers in the industry how to improve.
Determine what the future of work means to you
dr. Yuval Engel, associate professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Amsterdam and an expert in startup D&I practices, says the most important thing to do is answer the question you want.
And it’s not as simple as saying, “If we introduce hybrid work, will our organization become more diverse/inclusive?”
“People mean different things when they say hybrid work,” Engel said. “And then, even for people who mean the same thing, companies implement it differently, so it comes in a lot of different flavors. Then people use these flavors in a lot of different ways.”
The introduction of such a completely new system can be very disorienting at first, as it overturns established norms and creates a kind of wild west in the workplace until new ones are formed.
Start by defining what hybrid, flexible or part-time working means for your business. Does hybrid work mean working from home one or four days a week? If you have a meeting, where can people dial in from? Even simple things, like deciding whether people should turn their cameras on or off during meetings, are important to define from the start.
Redefine the ideal employee
If half of your workforce is working remotely, it can easily lead to bias during performance appraisals, compensation and promotion interviews.
“If the ideal employee is still the one who comes to the office regularly, the one who stays up late to work on what’s urgent, etc., this will subconsciously create a picture of who the top performers are based on old ideals,” Engel said. . .
If you implement a hybrid system, but your idea of who the ideal employee is doesn’t adjust, everything remains in the service of the existing power structures, which benefit certain demographics and not others.
By rethinking your image of the ideal employee, Engel added, “you are helping change all the policies of ‘Who do we hire?’ to ‘How do we promote people and what kind of reward do they get?’”
Are you having trouble defining these terms?
No worries. The missing ingredient in creating an inclusive culture is often making the process itself inclusive.
Joseph suggests using surveys to learn about the workplace models your employees are looking for and actually want:
When designing hybrid work policies, consider the inequalities that hybrid work can create or exacerbate. Designing with these practical dimensions of inclusion in mind is critical to creating an equitable organization. For example, offering sufficient (financial) support to have the right facilities to work at home such as office furniture, supplies, stable internet connection, etc.
Last but not least, don’t forget the power of connection. A number of studies show that while remoteness has its benefits, loneliness is often the trade-off. But the more friends employees have at work, the more more likely to be engaged and satisfied with their work.
“Create opportunities/moments to celebrate and recognize success, both as a company/team and as individuals,” Joseph said.