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Advancing diversity and inclusion in an age of hybrid work

Human Resources

Advancing diversity and inclusion in an age of hybrid work

Published 27 September 2022 in Human Resources • 6 min read

Organizations and their leaders need to take steps to ensure diversity and inclusion efforts are supported as hybrid and remote working become the norm.

Many organizations have championed diversity and inclusion causes in recent years. For such organizations, having board and senior leadership support for diversity and inclusion is critical to success. However, the plates of board and senior leadership teams have well and truly been full over the past two-plus years, to help navigate their organizations through the COVID-related turbulence that has subsequently transformed many workplaces.

One of the lasting changes of this turbulence has been the shift to remote and hybrid working arrangements, which has been a double-edged sword for many organizations – and their diversity and inclusion efforts. Women have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and women also lost jobs at a faster rate than men through the pandemic.

Working mothers with young children were also impacted, according to US research, which found that among college graduates with young children, women want to work from home full-time almost 50 per cent more than men. While there are benefits to increased flexibility, this also meant less facetime with managers and this could potentially affect the promotion prospects of working women.

The pros of remote and hybrid working for diversity and inclusion…

The shift to hybrid and remote working has several implications for organizations’ diversity and inclusion efforts, according to Tammy Allen, a Distinguished University Professor at the University of South Florida, and a visiting scholar at University of New South Wales (UNSW) Business School.

“First, if we think about employee recruitment, we know that organizations that offer remote work are more attractive to applicants,” said Professor Allen, who cited a LinkedIn study which found that jobs that were remote received over two times the number of applications than jobs that were onsite. Other LinkedIn research has also found women are more likely to apply for remote jobs: a point confirmed by Allen, who explained they are more attractive to not only women but persons of color.

“Remote work has enabled women to engage in caregiving while also maintaining some participation in the workforce. And we can also think of the implications for retention… And in fact, many employees say that they would quit if their employer forced them to return to the workplace,” she said. “For persons of color, working remotely means that there are fewer opportunities for them to experience microaggressions in the workplace. And so, they actually feel greater belonging, and more of a sense of inclusion, while working remotely.”

Allen, who has conducted research into work, diversity and inclusion for more 20 years, also noted that many employees – especially women – say they would leave an organization if they were forced to come back onsite full-time. “So, for employers, offering remote work is a great way to manage talent and attract and retain a diverse workforce,” she said.

Advancing diversity and inclusion in an age of hybrid work
“What we find is that, in the battle for the work-from-home space, it’s often women that are losing. So, it’s women who are more likely to have to find corners or even work from closets”

And the cons…

The shift to remote and hybrid working arrangements has certainly not been without its challenges for both employers and employees. Many organizations are still struggling to find the optimal balance of flexibility and productivity while retaining a sense of a cohesive organizational culture.

One of the more significant challenges associated with working remotely is “boundary management”, according to Allen. Traditionally, an office allows individuals to separate their work and non-work roles. However, when the workplace becomes the home, there is an integration of roles and boundaries become more blurred, which “can make it very difficult for employees to disconnect,” she observed.

“Being able to disconnect and detach from work is very important to our health and wellbeing. We know that remote workers have had to develop some unique strategies to try and keep that separation between work and home,” said Allen, who gave the example of what is referred to as “the fake commute”. So, when the working day is done, they close the computer and take a walk around the block to help physically mentally detach from work. Or workers might keep a space in their home that is specially dedicated for work, and only use this space for work time.

A second challenge relates to the work-from-home environment, and Allen explained offices are designed very intentionally to help employees with both ergonomics and productivity. “But we know that people working from home might be working from their sofas or working from kitchen tables. So, there’s the danger of musculoskeletal disorders developing because employees aren’t working in ergonomically sound workstations,” she said.

There are also important implications for diversity, Allen added: “What we find is that, in the battle for the work-from-home space, it’s often women that are losing. So, it’s women who are more likely to have to find corners or even work from closets.” As such, she said it is very important for employers to help employees working from home to set up sound stations, and perhaps provide them with an allowance to purchase furniture and equipment to maintain their health, safety and wellbeing.

Improving career and promotion prospects

As highlighted earlier, one of the common drawbacks (particularly for women) with remote and hybrid working is potentially being disadvantaged when it comes to career prospects and potential promotions.

There is evidence that remote workers may be more likely to be passed over for promotions, according to Allen, who said there are specific steps employees can take to ensure they remain promotable and not have their careers derailed.

“It’s important to keep your supervisor and co-workers aware of your accomplishments. And oftentimes women and persons of color are a little more reluctant to tout their accomplishments, but it’s important to maintain communication and not let ‘out of sight’ become ‘out of mind’,” she explained.

How leaders and managers can improve diversity

Leaders at every level of an organization play a critical role in the success of diversity and inclusion outcomes, and Allen said they should take a number of steps to ensure these outcomes are not adversely affected by remote and hybrid working arrangements.

One is to focus on impact, rather than face time, while the second suggestion Allen offers is to make sure all employees are receiving mentoring – regardless of their work location. It is also important to make sure employees are supported with setting up productive work-from-home stations and arrangements.

“Finally, it’s important to give employees the flexibility not only in terms of location, but also scheduling, to be supportive when employees do have disruptions such as having to take care of children,” said Allen.

This article was originally published on the UNSW BusinessThink platform.


Advancing diversity and inclusion in an age of hybrid work

Tammy D. Allen

Distinguished University Professor at the University of South Florida and visiting scholar at UNSW Business School.

Allen’s work over the past 20 years has focused on important topics that touch the lives of most adult members of society (e.g., how do individuals simultaneously manage their work and family roles and how can organizations help; what are the contributors to individual career growth and development such as mentoring relationships; and what aspects of work impact employee and family wellbeing).


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