The public health crisis, economic challenges, and social turmoil over the past year or so have prompted a multitude of unprecedented changes for businesses. Amongst all this, an opportunity has emerged to place a renewed focus on equality, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) efforts. The increasing prevalence of remote working presents an excellent prospect for organisations to build more diverse, inclusive, and agile cultures, which attract talent from across a globally diverse pool. This creates an imperative to rethink ED&I policies and practices to cater for the needs of a truly global workforce.
Why is ED&I an even bigger priority in the post-pandemic world?
The business case for ED&I is clear – diverse and inclusive teams make better decisions. In the right context, diversity contributes to healthy conflict, enabling smarter decision-making, innovative ideas, better anticipation of consumer needs, and ultimately revenue increase. Unfortunately, as with the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, the current economic and practical challenges of adapting to the post-pandemic work environment are driving attention away from ED&I, making it appear a somewhat secondary priority. But data proves that ED&I should never be at the bottom of the business agenda!
Whilst it’s great to see employers are providing people with the freedom to decide whether to continue working from home or return to the office, there seems to be little discussion around how this could potentially impact certain groups. For example, preliminary data indicates women who may be juggling childcare responsibilities, people with disabilities, lower income, or who live further away from the office may prefer to remain working from home at higher rates compared to other demographics. Consequently, this creates a multitude of risks which could potentially disadvantage these particular groups, including the creation of in-office/out-of-office working silos and decreased opportunities for:
Involvement in decision-making processes
Maintaining workplace networks
Training & development investment
Pay & progression increases
What actions should you be taking right now to further ED&I for your business?
Truly diverse and inclusive workplaces have equality, trust, respect, and appreciation at the very foundation of their culture and ways of working. ED&I, therefore, is ultimately about providing everyone with equal opportunity to grow, develop, and succeed. In the post-pandemic working environment, businesses can achieve this by investing in a comprehensive ED&I strategy which emphasizes leadership accountability for enabling equal opportunities through fairness and transparency, whilst openly tackling bias and discrimination – no matter how far they may lurk beneath the surface.
Diversity & inclusion metrics go hand-in-hand
You are likely already tracking progress against diversity objectives, but without inclusion, diversity only goes so far – the benefits to creativity, innovation, and decision-making cannot be reaped without creating work environments where healthy conflict and discussion are supported by safety, respect, inclusion, and belonging. However, inclusion is subjective and, therefore, difficult to define or measure, but it can be broadly conceptualised around the seven categories presented in the diagram below:
Businesses wanting to take appropriate action against ED&I objectives whilst adapting to the post-pandemic working model should take a deliberate approach to measuring employee perceptions and sentiments around the 7 inclusion categories, in addition to keeping an eye on diversity and representation data. Yearly engagement surveys are simply not enough when it comes to measuring inclusion– employee dynamics can change rapidly, especially within a remote working environment, and a regular ‘pulse’ on inclusion is required when it comes to maintaining an optimal working environment and taking preventive, rather than corrective action.
ED&I needs the right culture to nurture it
Once you understand your current ED&I situation, you’ll be able to identify the specific challenges and issues faced by diverse groups. This will require a business-wide culture change mandate, which embeds ED&I at the core of your values and purpose as an organisation.
Begin by communicating change from the top – leaders can transform employee experiences by communicating the rationale for change, stating, and role-modelling inclusive behaviours. They are also in the unique position to tackle microaggressions directly, having a direct impact on every-day workplace behaviours.
Establish the necessary changes to your people strategy – Consider what changes a remote working environment will require of your people management practices and the subsequent impact on ED&I across the business. For example, learning and development efforts may need to focus towards increasing manager capabilities for managing performance and addressing ED&I needs remotely.
Introduce alternative routes to reporting discriminatory behaviours – Regular HR grievance procedures can be ineffective in a remote working environment and are frequently supported by retaliatory behaviours. Instead, consider implementing independent dispute resolution vendors and treat reports as valuable prerequisites to enacting positive change.
As part of the transition to managing a hybrid workforce, you are likely already managing significant change across your business – do not forget your people are always at the centre of such changes. Investing time and resources into ED&I efforts is more important now than ever to ensure you maintain the right culture and remote work environment which fosters productivity and well-being for your people.