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Remote Teams Don't Automatically Equal Diverse Teams

 

By seeking remote hires, companies open themselves up to a global talent pool of endless possibilities when it comes to driving diversity initiatives. However, companies leveraging this strategy need to proceed with caution if they’re hiring remotely as a quick-fix or cure-all for diversity challenges. In fact, during our November Networkplaceless virtual networking event, the overarching theme was:

Remote does not automatically equal diverse, nor equitable, nor inclusive.    

It’s important to note that any discussion of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is informed by context, culture, and the experiences of teams and individuals. As our Networkplacless community exemplified, remote teams and remote workers experience unique yet overlapping concerns when in comes to DE&I. As the participants shared their own backgrounds and insights with the group, several common challenges were identified:

  • Thinking remote will "solve" diversity concerns. Remote without thoughtful intention and strategy only results in further DE&I issues.
  • Inclusion challenges when you can't see people like you (especially for minority groups)
  • People bring unique cultural selves to remote teams (e.g. globally, accents, norms)
  • Technical barriers: Access to high speed internet + equipment (see our recent post)
  • Measuring diversity outcomes to implement effective diversity policies and strategies
  • The role companies and leaders play when diversity challenges exist at an industry level


While this is by no means an exhaustive list of the topics and challenges related to DE&I in remote work—nor of those we discussed—they are some of the recurring issues that deserve thoughtful consideration and a proactive approach when launching, shaping, and reviewing an effective and intentional DE&I strategy. 

We’ve fleshed out a few of these challenges to help give you ideas about how to get started on your own meaningful DE&I conversations. 

 

How Do You Appreciate vs. Assimilate the Diversity of Cultural Norms?

When any team comes together, each individual brings their own personal background, perspectives, and personality to the conversation. However, when multiple people come together in any forum there is the opportunity for miscommunication due to differences in cultural norms, communication styles, and expectations. This can occur more frequently in globally distributed remote teams, who don’t have as many opportunities to connect in person. 

An important adage to remember is “assume positive intent,” when interacting with virtual teammates. However, it’s just as important to actively seek to understand your remote employees and teammates. To do so, ask the following questions:

  • Are you seeking opportunities to learn about employee language nuances, ingrained cultural norms, and communication personalities? (Linking to some great thoughts and resources on this topic: infographic post from Angelina Ebeling, recommended Culture Map book, and Collaboration Supercards.)
  • Are you aware of the holidays or cultural celebrations that your employees participate in and want to share? Are you giving them equitable time to celebrate?
  • Are you seeking out a diversity of perspectives and feedback in ways that could benefit not only your teams but also your business?

 

What Does Inclusion Look Like For a Remote Minority? 

“To be a black professional is often to be alone.”  This statement rings true for many minority individuals who often find themselves to be the lone member of their community on a business team or within a company. That, on its own, can be an isolating experience in the workplace. Compound that isolated feeling with the known loneliness concerns shared by many remote workers, and a minority remote team member can feel additionally deserted and alone on a remote team. This is where remote companies need to “double down” on inclusion initiatives to address the dual problem of minority isolation and remote isolation.

When remote companies begin to hire with diversity in mind, it’s even more important for efforts to be made for those individuals to feel a sense of community and belonging. These efforts can start today and could include any or all of the following actions:

  • Ensure minority groups have access to the tools, resources, and sponsorship to be effective in their roles and in their professional mission.
  • Open channels for members of minority groups to connect with one another, and to voice concerns and bring forth ideas—be prepared to act on those concerns and ideas.
  • Give managers the tools to recognize feelings of isolation and resources for workers to address those feelings.
  • Seek out (but don’t mandate) minority perspectives in DE&I initiatives and strategies.
  • Bring in DE&I experts familiar with remote work to facilitate conversations and inform thoughtful inclusion strategies. (Tip: We’ll be welcoming one such expert, Jordyne Blaise, to our December 4th Networkplaceless event.)


What if an Entire Industry Lacks Diversity?

In our Networkplaceless discussion, one participant mentioned that her employer—a technology company—was looking to bring more women into senior leadership positions. This is a great goal to have when thinking about diversity; however, the company uncovered a further challenge in the process—there was a lack of women in promotable roles not only internally but even when their search extended industry wide. Their business sphere suffered from a lack of women at all levels.

This can feel like a daunting challenge to overcome, but individual companies and leaders play a significant role when it comes to driving diversity progress. Companies need to start now by hiring women at every level, and providing them with the resources, mentoring, and sponsorship they need to ultimately reach executive leadership roles, and ultimately shift the tide of the industry.

This challenge isn’t unique to remote work, but as Zapier’s recent remote work report demonstrates: 62% of women say remote work is a perk they would most prefer, but 40% say their company does not allow it. Remote companies are also uniquely positioned to solve this problem with the ability to deliver employment opportunities regardless of location and a level of flexibility that allows employees to manage life responsibilities. Companies like Power to Fly, Tech Ladies, and others are stepping in to match tech industry needs with qualified remote, female talent.

 

Does Measuring Diversity Matter?

As a company, recognizing the importance of diversity is just step one. The next step is determining the appropriate strategies and initiatives for your organization. According to a BCG analysis, too often companies “launch programs that they think will yield improvements, but their decisions are based on gut instinct rather than proven results.” 

As with any business initiative, knowing where you’re starting from enables you to establish objectives and metrics, and gauge performance. Take a status check of your current company diversity. A tool like Culture Amp’s Diversity & Inclusion Starter Kit can help get you find the right questions to understand your baseline across each dimension of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Leah Knobler’s report on how Help Scout integrated the Culture Amp resources is a good example of how consistent metrics and data analysis can help you assess your DE&I program. 

The data you uncover within your organization should help inform your DE&I policies. Look to craft policies that aren’t just focused on anti-discrimination, but that proactively integrate diversity from the beginning and equality and inclusion throughout. In addition, policies need to be rolled out across every level and reach every individual within the organization. For DE&I initiatives to truly succeed the implementation cannot be solely owned by one team member or one function. Your diversity strategy can’t be stand alone, it needs to be intertwined with your business strategy and requires all employees working together to achieve results.  

 

So, What’s the Solution?

The unifying theme throughout the discussion was that none of these challenges can be solved through one-size-fits-all solutions, and simply hiring remote employees for the sake of diversity isn’t enough. Diversity will look different for every remote team and company: the specific challenges are unique, the landscapes are unique, and the opportunities are unique. But by combining thoughtful, intentional, strategic, and measurable DE&I policies with the opportunities afforded through remote employment, there’s a chance to drive true impact. 

To continue this discussion, we’d love to have you join us as we welcome Jordyne Blaise, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion strategist to our December Networkplaceless virtual networking event.

We also want to hear from you directly. What diversity / equity / inclusion challenges have you seen or experienced in your remote work?

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