Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in a workplace setting is a whole lot more than a human resources training program or compliance checklist. When done well, DEI is an all-encompassing value set that enriches an organization’s mission and contributes positively to the bottom line. But in the new world of flexible, hybrid, and remote work, DEI takes on a whole new imperative.
Consider this: More diverse organizations are 35% more likely to make higher profits, per Mckinsey. From the same study, companies in the “top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”
Here are many other ways DEI helps a company’s business, according to DEI expert, Dr. Nika White:
- Inclusion makes a workplace inviting
- Diverse teams promote innovative workspaces
- Inclusive boards and senior leadership teams yield higher return
- Diverse teams improve customer acquisition and revenue growth
- Equity ensures more equally distributed opportunities for employees
- Inclusion leads to conscious decision making and psychological safety
But don’t jump for joy just yet because there are positive business results. These are undoubtedly solid benefits, but there’s a lot more to it. DEI isn’t exactly easy. It’s bigger than a business initiative because it’s a reflection of our collective societies – which in turn have its own DEI issues to navigate.
“Simply gauging objective measures of diversity or equity doesn’t get to the heart of the matter — the daily encounters and interactions of individual employees,” reflects Ryan Pendell, Senior Workplace Science Editor of Gallup in his post “Avoid Virtue Signaling; Embrace Culture-Changing DEI Initiatives.”
“We may all experience the same workplace, but that doesn’t mean we all experience the workplace in the same way,” Pendell writes. DEI is framed by employee perceptions and employee experience, so it helps to understand how people feel today. Gallup research finds:
- 75% of black employees in the US who were discriminated against in the past year say it was due to their race, compared with 42% of white employees.
- Women report higher on-the-job burnout than men, and that gap has widened since the pandemic – from a 3%-point gap in 2019 to an 8%-point gap in 2021.
- Seventeen percent of LGBT employees strongly agree that their employer cares about their well-being, 10 points lower than for non-LGBT employees.
This is the reality for your employees today.
Hybrid working and inclusivity can be a challenge.
In today’s new world of hybrid work, there are real ways to embrace DEI and some pitfalls and practices to avoid. For example, working mothers with young children may embrace a flexible work model and really love it, but might also see opportunities and promotions pass them by because they are remote. Research from Stanford University finds remote workers are less likely to be promoted than those in the office. Despite 13% more productivity, they were promoted a lot less (by half).
“Hybrid work has the potential to offer a higher level of flexibility, a better work–life balance, and a more tailored employee experience,” writes McKinsey consultants in their post “Hybrid Work: Making It Fit With Your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategy.”
“These can have a disproportionately positive impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, as well as on performance. Hybrid work also has the potential to create an unequal playing field and to amplify in-group versus out-group dynamics, which can flip those advantages to the liabilities side of the ledger.”
Marginalized or underrepresented groups, including people of color, race, gender, binary, age, religion, physical ability and neurodiversity, may have feelings of less inclusivity in a hybrid model simply because others may physically be in the office more often.
“The hybrid work environment changes the game because now people are no longer co-located or even working at the same time and we can’t always rely on the things we typically do to foster inclusion,” said Ingrid Laman, vice president of advisory in the Gartner HR practice, in an interview with Dice. “We aren’t always able to physically see one another, observe how people do their work, and don’t have the same opportunities to informally connect as we would do while we are waiting in line at the cafeteria or waiting for the elevator.”
Olga Kislinska, a tech worker with a young child, found that her former company’s culture really shifted from being empathetic and equitable during the peak of the pandemic (“It felt very egalitarian—like we’re all in this together”) to something harsher as time wore on. As the danger of the pandemic shifted, 60-hour work weeks and burning out were now expected again, according to her interview in Time magazine.
Kislinska was “chastised for missing a meeting” when she had food poisoning. She was pregnant with her second child. This event led to her quitting her job and moving on to a new role.
Leaders, listen for signs of burnout. These are often associated with problems of inclusivity and perceived lack of opportunity. Better DEI practices can help.
A study of 9,000 workers from the Gallup Center on Black Voices discovered that the way employers treat their employees is the determinant differentiator between engaged, high-performers and being burned out. About 30% of workers feel burned out “always” or “very often,” and many of them leave their jobs because of it.
Workers “who feel like they are treated with respect at work are 50% less likely to report experiencing burnout ‘very often’ or ‘always.’
“Employees who strongly agree that they are accepted and valued as a person are 52% less likely to be feeling high levels of burnout. Similarly, employees who report feeling like a valued member of their team are 57% less likely to be experiencing burnout.”
What should leaders do?
- Treat all employees with respect
- Foster inclusion
- Give fair opportunities to everyone
“Black employees who strongly agree that they have the same opportunities for advancement as other employees are 55% less likely to report feeling burned out ‘very often’ or ‘always.’”
To help improve diversity equity and inclusion in hybrid workplace, lead with an employee-first mindset.
Hybrid work is changing company culture. It’s created a new culture all its own. How leaders and managers address it and help ensure fairness is no small feat. Think about it this way: your employees are more dispersed than ever before, often globally, across so many different time zones and unique cultures.
So many of us are working in different ways now – and at different times of a day or night. They might show up on a video call in a t-shirt or with our pets or with our religious iconography in the background, or with distinct, new cultural references.
“The key to hybrid models being a force towards increased equality and inclusion is leveraging employees and their diverse perspectives as we craft new systems,” writes Kenneth Imo, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Adobe, in an article for Fortune. “Managers should also model this approach when inviting employees to participate in setting manageable and clear expectations on how they will operate as a team to work towards shared goals.”