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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Hybrid Workplace Can Make Tech Companies Less Inclusive – Here’s What You Can Do

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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.

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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.

Unintended Consequences

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.

OECD bar chart showing the likelihood of women versus men working 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.

The OECD line graph showing the gender gap in part-time work has been stable for three decades

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.

Sound overwhelming?

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
Percentage of women working in technology in the Netherlands