Will Remote Work Undermine Diversity Efforts?

By Association for Diversity in Financial Talent

Women and POC prefer flexible remote and hybrid work compared to their white male counterparts. If you look at the stats, 52% of women versus 41% of men say they enjoy working remotely and want to continue and more than 80-86% POC prefer hybrid or fully remote work compared to 75% of their white colleagues. The primary reason is that women and POC tend to have more childcare and family responsibilities and endure more microaggressions in the office. Providing remote options might seem like a perfect solution for your diverse staff. However, becoming more remote or taking a hybrid approach can have some unintended consequences.

Benefits of Remote Work for Diverse Candidates

Many job-seekers are now including some remote days as a non-negotiable. What would have been considered a perk pre-pandemic is, in 2022, almost obligatory.

For diverse candidates, remote work offers numerous benefits:

  • Easier to manage childcare and other family duties

  • Wider range of geographic opportunities for jobs and mentors  

  • Leveling opportunities for those who do not enjoy socializing at the office 

  • Minimizes the effects of microaggressions aimed at POC and women

  • Work product is what is important and visible 

For companies, the benefits are equally as enticing. Companies with inclusive cultures enjoy higher productivity, have less turnover, and stronger brands.

Unintended Consequences: Proximity Bias

Even with the many advantages of flexible working arrangements, some workers remain concerned about seeing their careers stalled as they can be “out of sight and out of mind” of managers when it comes to assignments or promotions. Proximity bias is when those choosing to work in the office are given the best assignments and are promoted more frequently by managers who can forget about remote employees, often more POC and women. In this instance, the more hybrid approach unintentionally leads to a new challenge for diversity efforts. A recent study of supervisors by the Society for Human Resource Management showed that 75% of managers prefer workers to be on-site, another 70% of managers said remote workers were more easily replaceable, and 42% of managers reported forgetting to consider remote workers when assigning tasks. With that in mind, companies will need to intentionally neutralize the threat of proximity bias.

Combating Proximity Bias

Employers are experimenting with various approaches to combat proximity bias, including training managers to be more inclusive of remote workers, managers engaging in hybrid work themselves, hiring a hybrid or remote work director, and employing technology solutions. Forward-thinking companies are increasingly linking executive compensation to achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. Action is urgently needed. Employees who worked remotely reduced their rate of promotion by 50%, even though they were more productive than those working in the office. “Without intentionality, hybrid work can be the worst of both worlds,” says Darren Murph, head of remote at GitLab Inc., a San Francisco-based software company whose workforce is fully remote. Flexibility must be an integral part of company culture for companies to be inclusive of remote employees.

Creating a Cohesive, Equitable Hybrid Team

Leaders need new skills to create a thriving hybrid environment intentionally. Managers need the training to ensure everyone has a chance to contribute and initiate regular check-ins with individuals on the team, remembering that everyone has different life experiences. “Enabling managers is key,” says Celeste Narganes, Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at HubSpot, where they have created a workshop for managers to teach them how to create a cohesive, equitable team in the hybrid environment.

For a company to meet its diversity objectives, it starts at the top. These four inclusive hybrid work strategies are important to consider to meet those objectives:

Creative scheduling: Have all employees work remotely three days a week and come to the office on the same two days for meetings or rotate those who come into the office so everyone will work in person with the supervisors. 

Install a calibration committee: This should consist of senior executives who ensure that promotion decisions are fair and impartial. Committee members explain why they believe a particular 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 on-site before signing off. 

Managers work off-site at least once a week: It is important that leaders model acceptance of hybrid work by engaging in it themselves.  

Creating a cohesive equitable team in a hybrid environment challenges managers to learn new approaches and challenges companies to be more intentional in creating inclusive strategies to meet the needs of POC and women. To learn more or for help building a more diverse, talented staff, don’t hesitate to reach out.