Inclusive hiring and the need to support community groups to provide equal and fair opportunities continues to grow in importance. Although a topic that is frequently talked about, with businesses across Professional Services promoting it as a priority, there is still a lack of knowledge and practical action.
Most companies focus their efforts on diversity and representation, but embedding inclusive practices should be the priority. As highlighted by Geoff Guerin, Strategy and Sustainability Director at IDEX, “Most companies recognise the importance and benefits of attracting diverse talent, but statistics show there is slow progress for embedding inclusive practices. If you’re not focusing on how to be inclusive or auditing how you’re not being inclusive, you run the risk of marginalising people, damaging the diverse talent you’ve hired and losing key talent. Inclusion is the most important component of diversity and inclusion.”
Across sectors, work to embed inclusive practices and curb biases remains slow. In their latest survey on inclusion in the workplace, the CIPD report: “although there are pockets of good practice, the proportion of organisations implementing inclusive people management practices and focusing on removing inequalities faced by people with certain personal characteristics is low”, adding “just 30% of employers say leaders in their organisation are completely committed to having a diverse workforce.” (CIPD: Inclusion at work survey 2022).
Inclusion remains a challenge for hybrid working as businesses look for ways to ‘connect’ people across virtual environments. Below we explore the specific challenges various groups face and the proactive steps businesses can take to drive inclusivity in virtual, blended teams.
For many, the last few years have seen a migration away from the office and into the home. While evidence shows that remote working has been fantastic for offering autonomy and flexibility to professionals, it has certainly posed challenges for leaders looking to diversify their teams and drive inclusivity across the board.
Firstly, pandemic-related job cuts struck professionals from diverse backgrounds particularly hard. Research by Oxford’s Saïd Business school found: “female jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic than men’s jobs. Women comprise 39% of global employment but endured 54% of job losses”(Oxford business school: 2022 why inclusion and diversity are key to business growth), and though there is less research on how LGBTQ+ and minority ethnic groups have been affected, the statistics available are already concerning.
For those who survived the cuts, working virtually has posed challenges, especially for people from lower income households and various cultural backgrounds who do not feel comfortable showcasing their private living spaces or cultural identities on camera. “Work from home arrangements often require people to (virtually) invite coworkers [and] clients…into their homes, which undermines their ability to exercise agency and control over how they present their identities. Videoconferencing has transformed formerly safe, private spaces for authentic cultural expression into focal points of the public gaze.” (Harvard Business Review: Working from home while black). The visible exposure of private spaces, ‘home offices’, personal objects and cultural signage can often lead to implicit and explicit biases and judgements among workers.
In addition, whilst there are clear benefits for people with disabilities when remote working, research shows there are in fact many downsides. In research published by Instant Offices, a global office advisory service, 34% of those with a disability surveyed, said say they lack proper home office equipment, 30% said their mental health had declined and many people said they struggled to use virtual meeting platforms. Unsurprisingly, “60% of respondents said that, when working from home, they missed social interactions with co-workers” (Instant Offices: How Flexible Working Levels the Playing Field for the Disabled Workforce). Ensuring communication resources are accessible and equitable for people with a range of disabilities is another challenge individuals face. However, as long as employers have the understanding, knowledge and willingness to audit working practices and provide the right level of support, these issues can be avoided.
Ensuring a working environment is equitable and optimised for a diverse workforce can be as simple as implementing the following:
Understand employee groups and cultures
On intersectionality, McKinsey write: “while women have historically been disadvantaged in the workplace, adding to the present gender disparity, women of colour face harsher challenges, both at the workplace and in their career advancement” (McKinsey: 2023 Women in the workplace). Professionals from multiple disenfranchised communities unsurprisingly bear the brunt of work environments that lack diversity, more than others. Successfully embedding inclusion requires analysing the employee experience from multiple lenses, because “creating an environment where everyone can thrive and grow, means having to recognise that not all employees experience the same workplace challenges” (Forbes: 2023 How to create a genuinely inclusive workplace). Employers need to ensure the focus isn’t just on providing equal opportunities but driving equitable practices to ensure comparable outcomes.
Collate regular feedback
By creating an ‘open dialogue’ and encouraging regular feedback, you create a safe and comfortable environment for employees to feel empowered to share their honest views. This helps to create a more cohesive and connected community where people from all cultures and backgrounds feel their perspectives are taken into account and opinions matters. What’s more important is the action businesses take once they have received this feedback – transparent communication around activities and improvements planned is essential for engagement and belief in the company’s mission.
Provide training and awareness
Providing specific training for managers and leaders on how to bring teams and employees together virtually is beneficial. Talking to DE&I specialists, HR or learning and development teams or professional institutes like ‘Business in the Community’ can help to offer impartial perspectives and new techniques managers may not have been aware of. When leaders and manages are in different locations to their teams, it’s important for them to be able to easily identify changes in behaviour and mood and whether an individuals remote working environment is affecting their engagement at work.
Leverage technology to ensure accessibility
When considering the accessibility of technology, employers often stop at work desks and ergonomic chairs, but effectively leveraging technology can provide more benefits. Consider transcribing meeting notes, providing lip-reading recognition or captioning for those with hearing impairments and image recognition for the visually impaired. Tactics like this can ensure work tools are neurodivergent friendly and accessible to all.
Additionally, hybrid working can often mean employees need to hot-desk when working in an office. This can be difficult for neurodivergent individuals and those with disabilities because it doesn’t always offer the structured routine needed, or required equipment. Flexibility and the importance of equity over equality is vital when creating hybrid working policies and practices. Employers looking to retain diverse talent must understand that needs vary, and optimal performance is driven by specific strategies for specific groups.
Implement a diverse virtual mentoring programme
Mentoring programmes help to support individuals with their growth, development and working style. Many programmes have traditionally been in-person, but by creating a specific virtual programme that is based on matching people from diverse cultures and communities, you’re enabling connections across a wider business pool. This enables a greater sense of connectivity among people who may not normally interact – encouraging the sharing of different perspectives and experiences, therefore helping to foster a more inclusive community who understand each other.
Approach diversity with a long-term view
Interestingly, CIPD report: “5% of senior decision-makers said their organisation has not focused on any inclusion and diversity areas in the last five years, yet a much larger 36% said their organisation is not planning to focus on any inclusion and diversity areas in the next five years” (CIPD: Inclusion at work survey 2022). With diversity, equity and inclusion not only essential for talent attraction and retention, but extremely important for business growth and societal development, how can you as an employer ensure you’re embedding inclusive practices in a hybrid working model?
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