As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is a common sentiment that “everyone” is working from home. However, research shows that accessibility to remote work varies by race. While there is tremendous opportunity for remote work to create opportunity, remote does not automatically equal diverse nor equitable nor inclusive. We’ve yet to see comprehensive data on the true diversity of remote professionals; however, anecdotally within the US, the remote community agrees that reality does not yet reach the potential. For remote work to be truly accessible to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), we have more work to do.
At Workplaceless, we have been having the conversations internally and with our community to understand what role each of us can play to both break down barriers for and elevate the voices of BIPOC professionals in remote work. We embarked on discussions in late 2019 with regards to diversity, equity, and inclusion in remote work. We welcome further experts to share “Grounding Principles for Remote DEI Strategies” and “Real World Advice from Change Makers in Remote.”
As we moved into 2020, it felt important not only to continue our internal conversations but to amplify the discussions across the different platforms we utilize. With this in mind, and recognizing diversity in remote work is a long-term commitment, we invited four Black experts to contribute their perspectives and advice during our Networkplaceless event in September.
- Cachet Prescott, Organizational Development Consultant at Shift Matters
- Kaleem Clarkson, Chief Operating Officer of Blend Me, Inc.
- Chanell Alexander, Owner of Chanell Alex Writes
- Janice Chaka, Founder, Introvert Media Lab Consulting
Watch the full conversation: Reducing Barriers and Elevating BIPOC Professionals in Remote Work
Let’s start by highlighting some of the challenges BIPOC professionals experience in gaining remote employment or working in distributed environments:
Limited access to resources
Cachet opened the conversation acknowledging that not everyone identifies as BIPOC, but there are shared struggles or experiences in how individuals bring their best selves to the workplace. BIPOC professionals, including recent grads living with family, are often challenged with the access to resources needed for effective remote work. Larger families may be limited in terms of physical space, quiet space or internet quality. (Note Kaleem also challenges us not to assume we know the circumstances for every professional exploring remote work. With that in mind we want your input in this survey about barriers to remote work.)
Burden of code switching
Code-switching is the adjusting of behaviors and language to the environment in order to “fit in” to the mold of a particular setting, and, in this instance, from a social to professional workplace. A combination of research reveals that, for Black professionals specifically, code-switching can “deplete cognitive resources and hinder performance” and “reduces authentic self-expression and contributes to burnout.”
Apprehension of pursuing non-traditional work situations
This challenge was brought up in the context of Black professionals and diversity in remote freelancing; however, it also applies to remote work, which is still not seen as “the norm.” Chanell referenced an article by Tyra Seldon that paralleled her lived experience, in regard to the lack of representation in the freelancer community and lack of mentors within the remote BIPOC community. Mentorship and sponsorship can have significant implications for a successful remote career.
A need for psychological safety
Remote workers, especially on hybrid teams, often find it challenging to be heard and feel seen while being “out of sight, out of mind.” Cachet referenced research stating that BIPOC professionals are “continuously unseen, unheard and invisible” in many workspaces, but this is exacerbated in virtual environments.
Part of creating psychological safety for BIPOC professionals is recognizing how challenging it can be to simultaneously process graphic or traumatic events (for example, murders in the Black community) and everyday work performance expectations.
What actions can we take to address some of these known challenges? Our experts had some tremendously useful suggestions for attendees:
1. Establish Employee Resource Groups.
All experts agreed that Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), sometimes referred to as Affinity Groups, are a critical resource for delivering upon that support and psychological safety needed for BIPOC remote professionals to thrive. While many of our attendees highlighted the challenge for smaller companies in building these, this is no excuse. Janice and others encouraged companies and teams to search for partners to combine resources to create and support these ERGs. Panelists also recommended that larger organizations transparently share learnings publicly, as appropriate, from their resource groups.
2. Encourage feedback—stay silent—just listen.
Kaleem Clarkson enthusiastically encourages people who do not identify as BIPOC, to join these ERGs. However, these groups must be a safe space, and the role of white professionals is strictly to listen. To impactfully elevate BIPOC voices, taking a step back to be silent and listen is imperative. Chanell further emphasized how this role of listening and absorbing feedback (both the good and the bad) where all workers are prepared to listen, needs to be instilled within the culture regularly and transparently for there to be actual change.
3. Create space to connect.
Participants discussed the importance of connecting as people, and not just on racial topics, with colleagues who identify as BIPOC. Janice Chaka reminded others to always approach conversations from a place of learning and compassion. One participant noted that simple coffee and donut chats are useful opportunities to be seen as a person and to find common ground with his colleagues; while at first apprehensive, he found a one-on-one chat about personal topics created a more comfortable work environment.
4. Don’t make assumptions.
Kaleem also recommended that employers do not to make assumptions about needs of Black professionals, or any group that is perceived as under-resourced. Ask questions to try to understand struggles and what is needed for that professional to thrive. Just like every community, not every Black or BIPOC professional experiences the same barriers, so different people will require different solutions. Ask impacted groups for their opinion or input, and make changes or offer support based on lived needs, not perceived needs.
5. Rethink video-only engagement.
Janice reminded the group that a variance of resources exist throughout the pipeline of remote experience. During the application process, ensuring each step is mobile friendly can help boost accessibility for applicants. Companies that provide stipends for equipment can protect workers from incurring additional costs in order to execute their work. Shifting away from a video-first communication culture can allow for a less intrusive way for employees to engage, not to mention that it can help address potential home bandwidth issues. Alternatively, providing virtual backgrounds for employees can set a more comfortable standard for those working from home in a shared room or living space.
6. Collaborate with existing organizations who support BIPOC professionals.
Challenged by problems such as not knowing where to find BIPOC candidates or lacking resources or not having a diverse talent pipeline? The panel reminds us these are excuses. Do the work, and collaborate with community organizations, churches, and other groups—go where BIPOC professionals already go for support.
7. Recognize that diversity is more than a hot topic.
Chanell emphasizes that actively introducing diversity and inclusion as a priority in your workplace is more than just a statistic. A more diverse workforce also leads to increased diversity of thought and has consistently proven to lead to positive business outcomes.
While this discussion and suggested tips will not solve all the issues for BIPOC remote professionals, we hope you will feel inspired to take action within your company or professional life to elevate BIPOC professionals in remote work. We’d love for you to share #onetinyaction you’ll be taking to drive more diversity and inclusiveness in remote work.