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Diversity: Remote working’s hidden drawback

By: Alexandra Anders, Senior Talent and HR Director EMEA at Cornerstone OnDemand

Undoubtedly, the extended stint of working from home has had a massive impact on people – both good and bad. For some, it’s been a breath of fresh air avoiding the morning commute, being able to spend quality time with family and pets and ensuring quality alone time is had. For others, it’s been tough navigating through a professional career without the face-to-face support or the natural conversations with colleagues. One of the big (but hidden) drawbacks that comes with remote working is diversity. Businesses have spent a lot of time working on their diversity and inclusion efforts, but these have taken a big hit and a lot of work will be needed to get back to where they were before the pandemic.

The impact of remote working on diversity

At the best of times, diversity is difficult to uphold. When you add limited communication and extended periods of isolation into the mix, it’s even more difficult for businesses to continue to cultivate a culture that promotes diversity. Despite access to collaboration tools and remote working helping team collaboration for many, people have been lacking exposure to the natural diversity that comes from working in the office. At the moment, we aren’t exposed to people beyond our four walls, people have been placed in their own personal echo chambers and we’re only communicating with the people we know and already feel comfortable with.

Many previously commuted to work and were exposed to the diverse cities and worker hubs, even working in an office exposed people to diversity, whether they knew it or not. When naturally exposed to that diversity, people can feed off it and it becomes almost normalised. More often than not, the stigma around diversity comes from the people who have never even met the person they are discriminating against – we fear the unknown and this is no different when it comes to people. Natural exposure will help people to rationalise any fears and show them that people are just people. A lot of the progress made toward fostering diversity in the workplace will need to be reworked and, in some cases, started from scratch.

Laying the groundwork and getting back on track

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Many are likely to feel frustrated that any efforts and initiatives will need to be restarted, but diversity and inclusion is crucial for overall business success. It not only makes the organisation a better place to work for people, but it also allows them to be the best versions of themselves. When we live and lead with authenticity, we’re able to reach and exceed our potential a lot easier – being held back by fear of being our truest self will have ramifications on every aspect of a person’s life.

Businesses must begin to have open discussions about what needs to be changed and how to get there. It’s crucial to know where the gaps are, and actually, now is a great time to do that. During lockdowns, people have had a lot of time for self-reflection and are much more open to change. There has never been a time in history where people have undergone such a tremendous amount of change in such a short space of time. Analysing the numbers is important, but the focus should be on the gaps in diversity.

Ask yourself, what voices are missing from discussions? People from different ethnic backgrounds, genders and sexualities all offer a different insight to discussions – if you have the same faces around the table, you’re likely to get the same answers. And while those answers may work, it can inhibit innovation and progression. When thinking about your hiring teams, is there enough diversity on the panel? Without diverse hiring teams, it’s likely that great talent is being missed due to unconscious bias. It could also feel quite intimidating for a potential candidate to see no diversity on the hiring team – we relate to people who look like us and it’s important to know, as a candidate, that voices like theirs are listened to and celebrated. People need to know that they are safe to work somewhere and be their truest self.

The best way to find out where you sit? Ask! Organisations must get feedback from teams and face up to any uncomfortable truths. This may mean anonymising feedback so people feel safe to express their opinions or simply reiterating that all feedback will be considered. It’s then acting on the feedback and translating that into action – people want to see change, they want to know their voices are heard, and they want to feel safe in their workplace.

Fostering diversity must be a top priority for businesses as we continue beyond the age of the pandemic. The receptiveness to change is so much higher than it’s ever been, and we need to harness this receptiveness to bring about true transformation and make the workplace better for everyone.

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