Representation Matters: Accelerating DEI Efforts in a Remote Workforce

For the past 18 months, organizations have come to rely on telecommuting tools to collaborate with each other across different locations, networks, and even time zones. But how much has this seismic shift affected companies’ goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace? 

Last August, we brought together two experts on DEI training for our Spotlight on Human Capital event: Jiun Kimm, VP and head of DEI at mental health care platform Quartet Health, and Karine Bah Tahé, founder and CEO at global DEI training provider Blue Level Training. They dove deeper into the impact of shifting work arrangements on DEI efforts, as well as what organizations should prioritize to continuously promote DEI among a virtual workforce.

Zooming In on DEI Changes

Karine opened the session by giving a magnified view of something most organizations engage in on a daily basis — meetings.

In-person meetings often followed a preferential seating arrangement, where the “best seats” at the table are the ones closest to the boss or key decision maker. Attendees who feel lower in seniority or status tend to sit farther back, possibly getting disconnected from the rest of the group as the meeting goes on. While this may seem mundane, it can have a significant impact on team interactions and performance. 

But it’s different now with Zoom meetings, and Karine says it’s undoubtedly one of the best effects of video conferencing on team collaboration as everyone is given an equal chance to share their ideas. “Everyone is randomly placed and people are asked to contribute based on where they’re located on the screen. Nobody misses you,” Karine observes. She adds that Zoom’s raise-the-hand function is especially great for people who aren’t native speakers of a particular language, or have a speech impediment — things that are extra challenging for them in an in-person setup.

Aside from meetings, Karine also discussed how underrepresented employees are experiencing more workplace freedom since working from home. For the longest time, women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and people with non-white backgrounds have often been targets of bullying and harassment in the office. According to Karine, the resulting day-to-day microaggressions have decreased during the transition to remote work. “In the office, some of them [staff] weren’t comfortable putting pictures of their partners on their desks, as they were afraid of being judged,” Karine says. “Now, they feel less uncomfortable and get to be themselves at home, not scared of getting any type of non-inclusive behavior aimed at them.”

Challenges

Remote work doesn’t come without challenges, particularly in DEI. Apart from issues on employees’ mental health, Karine also cited the struggle of remotely working mothers taking care of their children because of gender roles and expectations. “It’s like we’re in a society that makes women feel guilty if they’re not taking care of their children. We’re seeing a lot of women and mothers quitting their careers they’ve worked on for 20 years. It’s very sad.”

Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Talent

In terms of talent recruitment and retention, Karine says that remote work has enabled companies to retain a more diverse talent pool. In fact, in Blue Level Training alone, they were able to hire more people with different backgrounds more than they have pre-pandemic. “Location is not anymore an issue because you can go in cities where there’s a lot of diverse talent. We have people that are located in China and India, in the UK. So we’re building a very diverse team, something that remote work has enabled us to do.”

Educating Each, Elevating All

Blue Level Training’s philosophy is to “educate each, elevate all,” founded on the idea that to achieve true and sustainable DEI growth, each and every team member should be educated about DEI — not just HR teams. “Our goal is really to make sure that education is accessible to all,” Karine explains. “It is really the biggest part missing right now, and I encourage companies to have a similar mission.”

Karine and Jiun shared some strategies on what companies can do to boost DEI efforts in remote work:

  • Ask the people. Both experts agree that the key to improving the workplace environment is to ask your employees for their thoughts and opinions. “Ask open-ended questions because you do not know how they feel. The answer is in your employees,” Karine suggests. Conduct employee surveys or focus groups to really get down deeper into their internal concerns and hear out their suggestions.
  • Have a diverse HR team. Your HR team should be diverse, one that truly has knowledge and understanding of DEI. Jiun says, “It has to be a skill, mindset, and passion that you have, especially as someone in the people function.”
  • Double down on education. As Karine mentioned, DEI education is still the number one most effective way of getting everyone in your company involved from the top down. “I encourage companies to give everyone access to DEI education, because that’s really what the future is and what will make you a better organization.”

Final Thoughts

Remote work is a part of the future, and organizations should take the necessary steps to uphold DEI even in a virtual environment. DEI should influence the workplace and not the other way around — leaders must always be at the forefront of bringing about inclusivity and positive change.

Watch the full session below with Rod Lacey, VP of People @ Talkdesk, Robert Hicks, Group HR Director @ Reward Gateway, and Stacey McKibbin, CEO @ Consilio

Photography by Christina via Unsplash.

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