How Can Your Organization Use Remote Work To Improve Diversity?

By Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer, Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

One of the greatest benefits of remote work is breaking down the geographical barriers that might have otherwise existed for hiring. It makes the pool of potential employees infinitely larger, enabling companies to bring a more diverse range of workers into their fold.

In this article, we’ll touch upon some of the ways that hiring managers can create a more diverse remote workforce. .

How We Got Here

The issue of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workforce has become increasingly significant in recent years, rising to its rightful place on the boardroom agenda in many businesses.

Earlier this year, we asserted that after a year in which communities experienced unprecedented pandemic-induced disruption and social unrest, 2021 would usher in further transformations in the way we work and with whom.

There are encouraging signs that this transformation is gaining momentum. For example, consider these recent reports:

  1. An increasing number of organizations are appointing a chief diversity officer. The FBI recruited its first in April, and Harvard Business School did so in June
  2. Leading brands across the U.S. are being encouraged to participate in a new diversity and inclusion study to shed light on some of the key issues holding back growth, innovation, and creativity in the economy. One of the world’s largest market research agencies is running the study, which claims to be the first to examine corporate practices against 10 facets of workplace diversity and inclusion.
  3. Federal agencies are becoming more intentional about embracing and embedding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) into their organizational culture. This initiative was a key requirement of President Biden’s June executive order, which tasked agencies with a lengthy to-do list, including relooking key moments in the federal employee experience.
While the business benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace are compelling, many organizations are wondering if the post-pandemic trend towards remote and hybrid working arrangements will accelerate or hamper their ability to accelerate their D&I efforts.

The Arguments for and Against

It’s well-understood that the increase in remote positions opens up new opportunities for people, who can’t drive or afford transport. Women, who may have previously struggled to balance their career ambitions with childcare responsibilities, now have more options. And the benefits to those with disabilities are obvious. 

According to a recent study commissioned by Indeed, two-thirds of tech workers predict that the growing acceptance of working from home will lead to more inclusive participation in terms of disability (79 percent), gender (77 percent), and race/ethnicity (72 percent). More than 90 percent of participants believe it will also boost geographic diversity, drawing new hires from different regions or cities.

Other recent research findings suggest that marrying diversity efforts with remote work strategies might be more of a challenge. For example, Microsoft launched a research effort at the beginning of the pandemic. The research discovered that while some people “found online meetings more inclusive, due to the ‘level playing field’ of all-remoteness, others who were less likely to speak up in physical meetings were also less likely to contribute online.”

Of course, every organization will need to inspect their own internal processes and culture, if they hope to realize the full benefit of remote working as part of their D&I programs.

Steps to Success

Let’s consider some practical steps that hiring managers and recruitment teams can take to make their brands and remote roles more appealing to people from diverse backgrounds.

Consider the “Virtual Face” of Your Company

First, be sensitive to who is doing the interviewing and hiringif people never encounter anyone from a prospective employer that looks or sounds like them during the (remote) interview process, they might doubt that the company is a place where they’re likely to fit in.

Harness Technology to Eliminate Unconscious Bias

Carefully craft job descriptions that don’t include any form of unconscious bias. Today, many artificial intelligence-powered solutions are available to help managers identify and eliminate any such bias in these documents. These tools can suggest alternate words, sentences, and more appropriate phrases. Also, consider tools that offer profile masking features to eliminate unconscious bias during the selection process.

Relook Your Digital Image

If you’re looking to attract remote workers, they may never come to your headquarters for an interview or even meet their colleagues in person. You could have the most diverse company make-up and culture in the world, but if your touchpoints with prospective candidates are primarily or fully digital, you need to make an extra effort to get that message across. So, carefully examine your website and be thoughtful about what you put out in the media.

As you move forward on your diversity journey, be mindful that remote working arrangements are here to stay. Consider how you can unite these converging trends to benefit your business and jobseekers alike.