Navigating Workplace Inclusion With a Diverse Workforce

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Navigating Workplace Inclusion With a Diverse Workforce

01/04/2022  |  georgev Categories: BlogRemote Working

The insidious nature of non-inclusive, non-diverse workplaces has a rippling effect on a company’s long-term success. Did you know diverse companies see a 2.3 times higher cash flow rate per employee than their non-inclusive competitors?

We only need a quick glance at the figures associated with inclusion in the workplace to see how positive it can be for a company. Not only in their profits, but in how they run and the value they put out into the world.

So why are we still at a point where only a handful of Fortune 500 companies are releasing their data on diverse employment? When the information is there, why are people resisting it?

Inclusivity issues that arise in remote working have the potential to run rampant, suffocating a company from within. Let’s look at what exactly workplace inclusion is. What does it look like and why it is so important to get right?

What Is Inclusion?

We regard inclusion as a basic human right. The goal of inclusion is to bring all people together, regardless of color, gender, disability, or medical condition. At its core, it’s about equal access and equal opportunity, but it is also about eliminating discrimination and intolerance.

The aim of inclusive practice is to remove barriers that would otherwise stop someone from being able to take part. It has a significant impact on every facet of public life, but the need for inclusion is most clear in work and employment.

Inclusive Design

We can, and should, make deliberate choices to build environments where everyone can engage. The way we design places and environments affects how we see, hear, move, and communicate, and in order for these to be effective, they must be inclusive.

The goal of inclusive design is to eliminate the barriers that cause undue effort and isolation. It allows everyone to take part in everyday tasks equally, confidently, and independently. These design choices matter, and whether through significant or small changes, can change the world for the better.

Why It Matters More Than Ever

During times of crisis, the focus on inclusiveness must become the focus. However, it is often the first thing that is disregarded. Despite the importance of this task, tackling it isn’t always as simple as it may initially appear.

Everyone has a different opinion about their work and how inclusive it really is. Some employees may believe their overall working environment doesn’t foster inclusivity. At the same time, they’re content with the support they receive from their supervisors and team.

If there is a perception of inequitable access to resources or support, people will feel like they can’t speak up or get the help they need. As a result, sometimes systemic initiatives aren’t enough to create an inclusive environment.

In order to manage people effectively, we must consider inclusive behavior. Not simply because inclusion statically leads to better results, but because it supports the key objectives of the company.

How COVID Impacted the Workforce

One of the biggest things the pandemic did for business was shining a spotlight on the impact of diversity and equity. These have long been a topic of conversation for many, yet it took a global pandemic and forced remote work to get everyone on the same page. 

Since then, there have been reports coming in from all sectors highlighting how COVID has disproportionately affected underprivileged populations. 

There was a shift in routine, in harnessing our experiences, and in understanding new perspectives. These all came with opportunities for learning and progress, especially for how businesses should embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion.

While it may seem like work is returning to normal, we cannot simply leave these concerns behind. The new reality of returning to on-site work could be unattractive and potentially damaging for many.

Three Disadvantaged Groups

Less than 20% of employees who work remotely want to return to what is now dubbed “the pre-pandemic model,” which involves commuting to work every day. People want enough flexibility that they can decide when it makes sense to go into the office.

Within that group of people are a few select groups who would suffer negatively from a planned return to full-time, on-site work.

People With Primary Family Care Duties

Did you know that because of school and childcare facilities closing, several million women left the workforce in 2020? Despite a significant spotlight on the problem, women are still primarily responsible for most of the family care.

When the barrier of commuting is removed, it becomes much easier to balance and even combine family and work duties.

Women are more likely to work from home than men. In fact, many of these women are mothers who know how hard it is to juggle schedules with commuting traffic. Let’s also consider the stress that comes with receiving an urgent call to pick up a sick child while miles away in a downtown office building.

People With Physical or Mental Health Concerns

Over 61 million people in the US face a disability and the innate discrimination that comes with that. Depending on their disability, commuting has the potential to become a significant obstacle.

What a non-disabled person would consider a routine excursion to the office can become a major source of fear and stress. This is especially true for someone with mobility issues, even if these have absolutely no impact on their ability to perform their work.

People Facing Housing Limitations

Prior to the pandemic, the number of “super commuters,” or people who commute for over 90 minutes each day, had been steadily rising in the US. Because so many couldn’t afford to live near their workplaces, many opted to make the lengthy commute.

People are frequently turned down for job opportunities simply because they can’t afford to live close enough to commute to work. Making someone’s residence an implied prerequisite for employment creates significant barriers for workers. We could be losing out on people with a lot of potential.

What Does Workplace Inclusion Look Like?

Accepting hybrid remote employment does not imply that employees will never return to their offices. Periodic in-person meetings are an important feature of healthy remote work cultures.

These kinds of cultures are not reliant on someone commuting to a workplace solely for the purpose of commuting. People’s worth is not measured by where they sit, but by what they contribute and what they bring to the table.

A big part of that is not punishing your employees if they cannot physically come into the office as frequently as their coworkers, if at all.

What does an inclusive workplace look like? Let’s break it down a bit more.

At its core, an inclusive workplace is one in which every person feels valued. This happens while also respecting their differences and how they contribute to the culture and business objectives.

An inclusive workspace celebrates diversity and the role that has in the company’s fabric. This is reinforced with affirmative action.

Affirmative action is a hallmark of an inclusive workplace, as it eliminates the impact of bias, discrimination, and unequal opportunity.

Examples of Inclusive Behavior

While we may initially assume that an inclusive workplace is one in which everyone is treated equally, this is not necessarily how it should be. An Ivy League graduate may have the same expectations as a more seasoned worker from an impoverished background or city.

This may have the unexpected result of unintended inequity, which prevents people from reaching their full potential.

A second great example of inclusion in the workplace is when all your employees feel like they have a voice. Employees need to feel like they can actively contribute to decisions being made, as their decisions impact their work. As a leader, one should always search for proactive ways to give their employees a voice.

Finally, most companies that claim to be diverse follow what we understand as a merit-based policy, which is an interesting and useful tool when done properly.

Merit-Based Inclusion

Merit-based inclusion is the process of assessing people based on the quality of their work, skills, experience, and professional traits.

Education may be a part of this evaluation, but its usefulness in determining a candidate’s potential is currently in question. Gender, age, color, and even language should not be considered in the decision-making process.

How does this help?

When a company hires based on merit, there is an assurance that the employee will not be met with prejudice at a later point. It will thus become easier to create a varied and inclusive workforce because of this.

Let’s consider the implications of gender discrimination in the workplace, as there are some sectors that are infamous for their lack of diversity.

A company that has a 50% female workforce on the front lines is far more likely to have an equal candidate pool for future promotions than one with a 20% female makeup. Merit-based recruiting enhances your diversity policies, which are then implemented across the full employment life cycle, from the bottom up.

Fostering an Environment of Performance

Merit-based hiring is only one aspect of merit-based inclusion. Merit must guide all staff development decisions, including performance management, cross-training, and succession planning.

Employees who understand that it is only their work that matters, not their personal life, are more inclined to focus on said work to advance.

Make people aware of their single most crucial evaluation factor — their performance. This minimizes distractions like office politics and favoritism is no longer a concern.

Learn How to Create an Inclusive Workspace

Inclusive workplace cultures foster an environment of creativity and growth that is beyond measure.

So how do we actually do this? It’s simple.

Practice Inclusive Meeting Behaviors

Existing meetings are an excellent platform for establishing “team engagement standards.” These would outline expected behaviors with a focus on involvement and inclusivity.

Try rotating the planned speakers for a meeting so everyone contributes.

Gently call on people who have not been heard on a topic or highlight and support the ideas of those who were potentially not heard as loudly or fully.

Minimize the amount of “cutting off” that happens, both in-person and via remote meetings. Give people the space to fully complete their thoughts.

Make note-taking a shared responsibility, so no one feels like they’re always doing the work. This is especially true if you don’t have a dedicated member of staff for this.

These are very easy practices to put in place and will probably only require a slight change to meet your existing standards.

Accommodating the Needs of Your Employees

Equity is about recognizing and responding to the diverse needs of your workforce, not painting everyone in broad strokes. Does the new intern come from a low-income family? They might profit from additional learning opportunities.

Do your employees with disabilities find it difficult to get to work? Perhaps a remote working policy that is fairer is in order. Equity equalizes the playing field, allowing all employees to feel included and respected.

Provide Access to Mental Health Support

Given the ever-changing unknowns in our world, it’s more important than ever to realize when people are struggling. For some people, the isolation of working from home might be a significant mental health trigger.

Managers and leaders should make it a habit to check up with their staff regularly. This shows care and concern for their well-being, not just their work.

If you come across an employee who needs help, make sure you have resources at the ready to help with a variety of mental health needs. Whether at weekly meetings or monthly check-ins, remind staff about the mental health options available to them. It could be the push someone needs to get help.

Introduce New Training Opportunities

Employees must believe that they can actually grow their careers at their company. You’ll only hinder employee growth and limit creativity if you don’t include learning and development as a major part of your company.

This can have rippling effects that impact your business’s inclusivity and broader values. Support further education and give your employees the chance to advance their professional and personal goals. Encourage them to learn a new skill, or develop a hobby or interest, even if it takes time, money, or encouragement from your side.

Helping People Feel Included

It’s difficult to connect with and motivate a remote staff. However, there are a handful of tried-and-true methods for connecting with others in ways that boost their feeling of purpose and personal productivity.

Keep People Updated

In a constantly shifting, evolving landscape, it’s critical to keep your remote staff up to date. This will ease any confusion or fear they may experience when confronted with unexpected change. The unknown is frightening, yet so many people sift through it daily.

Make it a part of your corporate communication plan to share important news with your employees before publically disclosing it. This way, they can ask questions and provide comments without feeling like they were blindsided.

Support Wellbeing

Especially in a remote space, problems with wellbeing may be difficult to detect. Facets of wellbeing here include personal, emotional, mental, and physical health. Some people may find it difficult to communicate these issues, so it’s important to learn the signs and intervene early.

Clues that someone is feeling isolation fatigue or burning out can include:

  • People keeping their cameras off
  • Skipping meetings
  • Frequently calling in ill

Encourage employees to discuss their hobbies and interests out of work to show how much you regard them as people, not just resources.

When we show we care, people are more willing to open up and seek help.

Empowering Your People

Providing funding and access to training can be a great way to support not only personal well-being but professional growth. Because we have no control over how things unfold, it’s critical to ensure your workforce feels empowered to manage these hurdles in any way they can.

Be flexible with working hours and patterns, and give them the space to handle little details, such as asking if they prefer video or audio catch-ups. Let them use their own agency to make decisions. When we give people the space to work in their own way, they are far more likely to be productive.

Embrace Company Culture

Frontline managers may find it challenging to express the company’s core culture remotely or to ensure that distant employees feel included.

For more inclusiveness, encourage remote and deskless workers to feed into your corporate values. Think about how those values are evolving in the current situation. Instead of relying on a subtle ‘feeling’, you may need to put more emphasis on corporate values throughout all communication.

Begin each weekly meeting by concentrating on one key value and asking folks to share how they’ve recently exhibited it. Incorporate ways of recognizing and rewarding efforts, like giving out small prizes and gifts.

Encourage Remote Communication

Encourage team members to have informal catch-ups, such as virtual coffee breaks. Because smaller groups foster more intimacy and trust, it may be helpful for bigger teams to split up and rotate members on a weekly basis.

One-on-one meetings with managers are even more vital now, so make the space to schedule them. Have an open-door policy and give remote employees a variety of channels through which they can connect with you. This will help can do what’s most comfortable for them.

Make a Space for All

Workers who work at their desks – in factories, stores, and on the road – are not voiceless, but their voices might get lost. This can make them feel as if they aren’t being heard or valued.

When thinking about inclusion, focus on ways to give remote employees a voice. You could do this by using mobile social platforms and traditional techniques, like employee surveys. Consider allowing dedicated time for remote or deskless workers to talk in meetings, especially if they’re already disengaged or disconnected.

When they communicate, be sure to pay attention and provide positive feedback. Also, when they email or send messages on team chat, attempt to do the same. These little seconds of micro-feedback might help people feel validated and motivated.

Fun Activities to Engage Remote Workers

Create planned events and encourage team members to take part in unstructured activities. Some companies have regular quiz nights, book clubs, and even karaoke evenings.

Allocate a budget for these moments of connection to promote engagement. You can even encourage your staff to take turns choosing themes. Allow them to spend the money how they see fit.

Build Collaborative Working

Flexibility in working hours is critical for employee happiness. This is especially true if remote and deskless workers have interests and responsibilities outside of work. However, if teams are never online at the same time, feelings of loneliness and isolation can grow.

Perhaps consider how to find a balance between flexible working hours and times when you’d like everyone to be online. You could schedule a few core hours or ask people to turn on their cameras for specific meetings.

Global Growth With a Remote Workforce

Humans require connection to not only survive but to thrive. When there isn’t a shared physical office or venue for face-to-face meetings, making sure this happens takes a bit of extra effort.

But it’s well worth it.

We only have to look at the facts to understand that workplace inclusion should be at the forefront of a company’s mind. This is not only because it means a happier employee base, but because the performance of the business benefits, too.

Our vision is one where opportunities are limitless, and people all over the world can connect with those who will value them the most. Contact us today if you’re looking to expand your business remotely. We’re here to help you.