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Special Feature: Is Remote Work Damaging Your DEI Efforts?


A recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found 42% of managers "forgot" about remote workers when assigning projects or tasks. Are we entering the world of "Out of Sight, Out of Mind?"

Overwhelmingly, we are hearing from clients that most of their workforce today, including many women and people of color, want to work from home full time or part time in a hybrid capacity. In fact, employees in those demographics are more likely than white men to say they would rather work remotely, according to new research, primarily because they want to escape the frequent microaggressions they’re subjected to in the workplace. Women add that working from home provides freedom to deal with family responsibilities such as child care.


But at what cost? Granting the wishes of women and people of color may endanger their careers and companies’ attempts to diversify their upper ranks. Employers now face a new challenge presented by remote and hybrid work arrangements: proximity bias. Many experts worry—and surveys confirm—that managers and senior executives may forget about people they don’t encounter daily, only granting promotions and high-profile assignments to those in the office.


As companies struggle to improve their diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs, they’re also scrambling to design plans for hybrid work that work for everybody. “No one’s figured this all out yet,” says Elena Richards, chief diversity and inclusion officer at KPMG. “Communication will be key."


Granting the wishes of women and people of color may endanger their careers and companies' attempts to diversify their upper ranks as employers face a new challenge presented by remote and hybrid work arrangements: proximity bias. Many experts worry—and surveys confirm—that managers may forget about people they don't encounter daily and may grant promotions and high-profile assignments to those in the office. That becomes an even bigger problem if white men make up the bulk of the in-office workforce.


More than 80 percent of Black and Asian or Asian-American knowledge workers in the U.S. say they would prefer hybrid or fully remote work arrangements, as do 86 percent of Hispanic individuals. Three-quarters of white employees feel the same, according to the results of a November 2021 pulse survey of 5,421 U.S. workers from Future Forum, a research consortium set up by Slack. (Unlike those employed at stores, factories or hospitals, knowledge workers tend to have jobs that can be done remotely.) The survey also showed that Black and Hispanic workers' sense of belonging and fair treatment grew sharply when they worked from home.


Meanwhile, 52 percent of women say they enjoy working remotely and would like to continue to do so, compared with 41 percent of men, according to a recent Harris poll. More than 60 percent of women say they feel more energized working from home, and 58 percent say they are more engaged. Roughly 50 percent of men say they feel more energized and engaged when working from home.


Still, some companies are taking extra steps to guard against proximity bias. San Francisco-based Iterable, a consumer marketing company, initiated a "calibration committee," which consists of six senior executives who ensure that promotion decisions are fair and impartial. Team leaders fill out detailed forms explaining why they believe a certain person merits a promotion. The committee then studies the proposals for signs of bias, comparing promotion rates of remote and hybrid workers to those who work onsite.


"We want to make sure we're not being unfair to anyone," says Markita Jack, Iterable's head of DE&I.


Altria Group Inc. is also looking at promotions through a DE&I lens. Last year, the Richmond, Va.-based tobacco company created an inclusion, diversity and equity ratings system for its people managers, with results based on employee surveys. Starting this year, only those ranked as an "advocate" or "ally" of underrepresented groups are eligible for a promotion.


"The ratings are a way to get at accountability," says Michael Thorne-Begland, Altria's vice president and chief inclusion, diversity and equity officer.


As we work in our new normal, I am an advocate for hybrid or remote work- it allows for flexibility and better engagement. As leaders, we will need to shift our mindsets to ensure we are accurately assessing talent and performance across both our in-person teams and our hybrid or remote colleagues.


Source: SHRM "All Things Work."

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