Working from home may feel singular, but it can be a catapult for any company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
Many companies quickly shifted operations to work from home (WFH) when the pandemic hit. And they found the wheels still turned, perhaps even faster, more efficiently and with higher quality.
So why not make WFH the new inclusive and diverse reality?
A work from home model creates opportunities to hire, include and collaborate with a more diverse group of people and a higher level of talent – people who might not have been able to work under traditional structures.
And that can make your company stronger.
Ethnically diverse companies are likely to perform 35% better than their counterparts, according to research from McKinsey. And gender-diverse companies are likely to perform 15% better than their counterparts.
Building diversity and inclusion into a work-from-home model isn’t just about marrying two ideas because they’re trending and should be addressed. Diversity and inclusion need to be part of the work from home model because both are the future of work and basis for business success.
Here are eight strategies and practices that can build or improve diversity and inclusion in a work-from-home plan.
Expand the hiring scheme
Fortunately, most WFH plans will naturally broaden any organization’s geographical reach – and eliminate a location bias. So, companies can more easily hire people with different identities related to gender, race, age, sexual orientation and ethnicity.
How? Best practices for diversity in hiring:
- Revamp job descriptions. Create more inclusive job descriptions and postings. Focus on outcomes and results more, and actual job tasks less. Recognize that nearly every person will approach remote work differently so what they produce is more important than how they do it.
- Adjust job descriptions and postings. You’ll distribute those widely – perhaps worldwide – so you’ll want them to match cultural and geographical language nuances.
- Broaden the hiring team. If you reach and hope to hire from a diverse audience, you’ll want an equally diverse hiring team and interviewers.
- Forget culture fit. Take on a “culture add” mindset. Avoid just looking for hires who will “fit in.” Instead, consider “perspective gaps” in your organization – outlooks on work, life and your organizational goals that no one has – and the types of candidates who could add value in those areas.
Look at the potential
When companies remove geographical limits – and the obligation to work at a physical site – you open job opportunities to a diverse group of qualified candidates who didn’t consider applying until they could work from home. That includes:
- people with injuries, debilitating conditions or disabilities. If their mobility was limited – and their talent and enthusiasm wasn’t – they can now add expertise and perspective.
- candidates from around the world. For example, if the best engineers are in Africa and the top-ranked developers are in Dubai, you can now tap their talent. Plus, you might gain best practices and insight from different cultures.
- stay-at-home parents, who are at the top of their field, but couldn’t manage on-site work and child care. WFH can get their talent back on your teams, regardless of where they’re now located and the hours they can work.
- retired workers, who can offer generational perspective and experience that’s often lost as older workers leave office space.
- people who might have experienced bias or are fearful of bias based on their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, intellect – or any other personal factor. Working from home, with less personal contact, might be a more comfortable position for them.
We won’t kid you: Compensation can be trickier with a WFH model that promotes diversity. But it’s not impossible to remain fair and competitive with salaries.
Because employees can choose where they live based – at least, partly – on cost of living and preferred environment, companies with a WFH plan avoid some overhead. That’ll allow them to offer more competitive salaries and benefits.
Experts suggest using a compensation strategy that includes calibration tools that remove bias, and ensure equal and fair pay based on things such as national averages, tenure and cost of living.
For example, Goodway Group calibrates compensation quarterly. They make sure they’re aligned with the market rate for each remote employee’s area and role, explained Corean Canty, COO. Plus, they check for pay disparities to avoid unintentional issues that might not show up when you just compare numbers and don’t look at things such as talent, contribution and diversity.
With an extended hiring reach, and diverse group of employees, companies can promote inclusion by giving employees a voice, safety and community. With growing perspectives, companies ultimately make better decisions and achieve better outcomes.
But just creating a diverse population doesn’t make a company inclusive. HR pros and direct managers need to cultivate inclusiveness.
Gallup researchers found inclusion efforts are successful when leaders:
- Start from a place of respect. The best companies make respect a behavioral expectation and job requirement. People must treat others with respect and, in turn, expect to be treated with respect.
- Value strengths. Leaders recognize, reward and coach to employees’ strengths. People who are recognized and coached see a higher level of inclusiveness in their organizations, Gallup found.
- Make their values and intentions clear. The best companies give leaders the tools to create a place where employees feel they can safely express themselves and raise concerns. Employees know they work in a transparent and encouraging environment.
For ideas on how to increase inclusiveness, here’s how trailblazing organizations do it:
Give employees the platform
At Achievers, CEO Jeff Cates and his management team gave employees the space and voice to create Employee Resource Groups (ERG) that fit their needs and concerns. Employees initiated (and maintain) most of the groups, and management suggested some based on observation.
“It’s a way to feel connected outside of the work they share and give a voice to a specific group,” Cates says.
Some of the groups lead by employees with a common interest include PRIDE and Women in Technology.
Similarly, Facebook has these groups that meet virtually: Black@, Women@, LGBTQ@, Differently Abled@, Desis@. Facebook created “D&I Wiki” groups with links to resources such as training programs, webinars, events, social groups and support groups.
Send message from top down, listen from bottom up
At Denny’s, leaders preach and practice the diverse and inclusive message. They offer “unconscious bias training,” and CEO John Miller says he regularly attends. That’s because he wants to stay on top of the topic and set precedent for all executives and leaders.
More importantly, Miller says they regularly measure the effectiveness of training and diversity and inclusiveness strategies by getting feedback. Simply put, they ask frontline employees if the company practices and executes what it preaches on diversity and inclusion. And if they don’t, leaders act to change it.
Embrace diversity as a norm
For Ultranauts, diversity is so prevalent, it’s practically the norm. At the 100%-remote-based company, “neurodiversity” is almost across the board. Seventy-five percent of employees are on the autism spectrum.
They thrive in a work from home environment, but CEO Rajesh Anandan says he still focuses on diversity because most employees have unique learning styles and communication preferences.
Building an inclusive environment doesn’t come naturally to many people. In fact, some people aren’t even comfortable recognizing or bringing up exclusivity issues. That’s why Ultranauts host open Q&A sessions and always-on forums when employees anonymously share frustrations, ask questions and present problems. Then leaders publicly address those to hopefully stay ahead of inclusion issues.
Support sameness, too
Regardless of differences, most employees have a few things in common – from concerns to desires. You want to support the similarities, too.
For instance, most employees working from home are still likely concerned about managing their finances and work/life balance better. Most also likely enjoy having some fun and/or relieving stress from work.
Offer help in those areas, too. For instance, Goodway Group has weekly “life hack” calls with employees who want to tap into ideas on how to do their jobs and balance their home and family demands better. They also host “family fun” calls where employees can get to know each others’ families, hobbies and connect with things they like to do when they aren’t working remotely.