Does Remote Work Lead to More Diversity?

Does Remote Work Lead to More Diversity?

Key Takeaways

Remote teams have the tools to be more diverse, but just being remote doesn’t lead to more diversity.
Diversity, equity and inclusion efforts require team buy-in, self-reflection and positive action toward achieving goals.
The first step to a more diverse remote team is an audit of where you are now.

Remote Work Can Make Your Team More Diverse… But Only if You Work at It  

Can remote work make your team more diverse? Yes, but not without some effort on your part. As with anything in HR, you can’t expect your goals to take care of themselves. Introducing remote work won’t, by itself, make your workforce more diverse or improve your company culture. Instead, you need to be proactive about using the benefits of remote work to meet your goals faster, while understanding its challenges.  

Challenges of Remote Work  

When businesses scrambled to go remote last March, human resources departments, alongside their partners in IT, leapt into action. It was their responsibility to ensure that employees were set up well in their new home offices, working effectively, and to adapt business operations to a remote environment. Along the way, many of HR’s traditional responsibilities fell by the wayside, including a pause on recruiting and hiring.  

While the pandemic is still with us, hiring has picked up in the new year. For those HR pros who are working in a still or permanently remote environment, now is the time to review your diversity and inclusion goals and strategies to ensure they’re effective in your changed circumstances.  

Out of Sight, Out of Mind  

Focusing on immediate and obvious problems rather than thoughtfully prioritizing is a fault many of us share. In remote work environments, problems that might have been obvious in an office can seem distant or be hidden. Stay focused on your diversity and inclusion goals by outlining them and revisiting them frequently.  

If you’re trying to foster a more inclusive environment, ask yourself these questions:   

  • Who speaks up in discussions and who doesn’t?  
  • Whose ideas are pushed forward and whose are sidelined? 

More broadly, you should always be asking yourself the following questions about the effectiveness of your efforts:  

  • Are your great ideas getting turned into great plans? 
  • What progress have you made on those great plans?  

Benefits of Remote Work  

Distributed teams have some obvious advantages. They’re nimble, cost-effective and tend to enjoy better work life balance and productivity. From a recruiting and HR perspective, a remote environment expands possibilities. You can recruit from a wider talent pool, rather than being limited to local candidates. You can streamline your processes by taking them fully digital.  

Not Just Remote, But Distributed  

When previously co-located teams go remote, they focus on adapting their work to a new environment… but once that work is done, they need to move forward, by looking at how that environment benefits them. Expanding your talent pool to hire globally instantly widens and deepens your talent pool, with candidates you would never have encountered had you continued hiring locally.  

Being open to hiring from anywhere is a great first step, but you should also use this opportunity to reconsider what an ideal candidate really is. University and college programs aren’t identical the world over, or even within your own country. Work experiences may not be the same either. You won’t see the same familiar school and business names in the resumes you’re screening, and that’s a good thing.  

Let me give you an example of why experiential and geographic diversity is so important. Every member of your team attended an Ivy, had impeccable internships, spent five years at Google, Facebook or Amazon and have identical, downtown apartments. Now they’re tasked with building for a diverse customer base spanning the globe and every demographic on it. How well equipped is your team to deeply listen to the needs of its users and even anticipate them?  

Equity in Recruiting  

Embracing a distributed first approach to your recruiting also means that candidates who can’t afford to move to industry hub cities are on more equal footing. The ever-rising costs of living in global centres of commerce has widened the wealth gap between the rich and poor, along with the opportunity gap. Looking to fill internships and entry level positions with candidates from smaller cities and towns, or those without a string of impressive unpaid internships allows you to connect with talented people that other employers have passed over and filtered out.  

Closing that opportunity gap also requires making more opportunities for women, people of colour and LGBTQ people, all of whom face barriers to employment and advancement. As you widen your recruiting pool, you will reap the benefit of connecting with candidates that others have missed.  

Go beyond this “natural” diversification of your talent pool to consciously diversify the candidates you connect with, including reaching out to passive candidates. In the USA, women overall earn $0.98 for every dollar earned by men. Among women, there are stark differences along race and sexuality. Black women earn $0.62, Latina women $0.54, and transgender women earn $0.32 for every dollar earned by men.  

Think you’re an unbiased recruiter and manager? Study your talent pool and workforce and then ask yourself these questions:  

  • What % of your talent pool/workforce is women?  
  • What % of your talent pool/workforce are people of colour?  
  • What % of your talent pool/workforce are LGBTQ?  
  • What % of your talent pool/workforce went to the same school as you or your company’s leaders? 
  • What % of your talent pool/workforce are from the same region as you or your company’s leaders? 
  • What is the average salary and seniority level for each demographic in your workforce?  

If the results are disappointing, you have some work do to. Here are some first steps you can take:  

  1. Remove geographical barriers to employment.  
  2. Where possible, add salaries to job posts.  
  3. Audit your employer brand and job marketing to ensure they are sending the right message.  
  4. Look for niche job boards and communities to share your jobs.  
  5. Reach out to bootcamps and employment programs designed to advance diverse candidates.  
  6. Finally, and most importantly, ensure that your HR team and business leaders are aligned on the importance of creating a more diverse workforce.  

Changing Your Remote Company Culture for the Better  

There are some obvious benefits that going remote offers to company culture: physical altercations and harassment are impossible; dress and hair discrimination are less pervasive; and all employees feel less like they are on “display.” However, as with every benefit of remote work, you cannot rest with the assumption that going remote has made your company culture better and the work is done.  

Harassment still occurs in the remote space, particularly through back channels such as direct messages, unmonitored phone calls, and personal social media accounts. Victims tend not to speak up, unless they believe that the management team will deal fairly with the issue. It’s up to you to prove you’re worthy of their trust, by having clear policies, being open to change and learning, and making it clear that you don’t tolerate discrimination and harassment.  

Some policies that can discourage harassment include:  

  • Encourage the use of public internal channels over direct messages.  
  • Moderate internal messaging channels fairly and consistently, including the off-topic channel, if you have one.  
  • Have different team members chair meetings and lead working groups, to avoid informal concentrations of power or cliques.  
  • Make video mandatory only when necessary or for team building activities.  
  • Do not require team members to share their personal emails, phone numbers, or social media accounts with each other.  
  • Have a zero-tolerance approach to dealing with harassment and discrimination.  

Diversity and Your Remote Team  

Going remote gives you greater opportunities to diversify your team, but it’s up to you to use them. Start by taking a hard look at your talent pool and workforce, and then look at how your recruiters, human resources and leadership teams have contributed to those results, for the positive and negative. Finally, audit your employer branding to understand how that impacts the kinds of candidates you do and don’t attract. Finally, commit to proactively and consistently improving your talent pipeline and workforce management.  

Until you do this, you aren’t reaping the best benefits of having a remote team.  

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