Breaking down recent data to understand how the digital workplace can enhance DEI and support employee wellbeing.
The recent shift to remote and hybrid work environments, combined with increased efforts toward enhancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, has led to reinvigorated discussions about how to make DEI a success in our new normal.
Thankfully, research on DEI in digital workplaces has found many ways remote and hybrid work supports underrepresented groups of employees.
In this blog, we’ll break down four ways flexible work has improved the day-to-day for certain employees and what employers can learn from the data to expand employee wellbeing and continue to develop workplace strategies that foster DEI.
The benefits of remote and hybrid work on DEI
In the brave new world of remote work, historically underrepresented groups have found various benefits from the increased flexibility of remote and hybrid workplaces. From people of color to women and single parents, studies show each group has found ways remote or hybrid working situations benefit them and alleviate stress.
1. People of color report a preference for remote work
Of those currently working remotely, 97% of Black knowledge workers want a hybrid or full-time remote working model when compared with 79% of White knowledge workers in the U.S. Black knowledge workers are also less likely than their White counterparts to want to return to full-time in-person work, with only 3% looking to return to the office, compared to 21% of White knowledge workers. Several vital factors may be the cause of this drastic dichotomy.
The impact of microaggressions and code-switching on inclusion
Microaggressions and resulting code-switching may be some factors playing into the differing attitudes on in-office work between White and Black workers.
Microaggressions are subtle, intentional and unintentional interactions or behaviors communicating some bias toward historically marginalized groups. Code-switching is how members of an underrepresented group (consciously or unconsciously) adjust their language, syntax, grammatical structure, behavior, and appearance to fit into the dominant culture. These elements are part of the delicate daily interactions in and out of the workplace and have an integral role in how individuals feel about navigating their place of work.
Many people feel they have to engage in code-switching to succeed in a corporate environment. To achieve this, an individual may consciously or unconsciously change their tone, outfit, or perspective to adapt and “fit in” to the surroundings. In doing so, individuals may feel as if they have lost their ability to be authentic or use their voice at work. Naturally, this takes a toll on employees’ wellbeing and ability to thrive at an organization.
Under certain circumstances, some individuals may feel as if they are constantly criticized, critiqued, or even unacceptable to the majority. This leaves employees feeling like they are always under a microscope, making it hard to focus and work.
“Coming back to work is partially about surveillance and micromanagement. Everybody feels it, but people of color feel it in a different way,” said Keisha, a podcasting executive in an interview for The New Yorker Radio Hour.
Where microaggression can be prevalent, code-switching can be a way of fitting in and building social capital, an advantage some individuals have over others due to who they know.
Digital workplaces can, in part, mitigate microaggressions and code-switching
Microaggressions and code-switching can be exacerbated by in-person office interactions that perpetuate a White-dominant corporate culture, whether through the requirement of standard dress codes, the telling of seemingly innocent jokes, or even the decorations that might be put up during holidays. Given we spend most of our lives at work, microaggressions in the workplace have an immense impact on people’s mental and physical health.
However, remote work models are game changers regarding perpetuating microaggressions or the need to code-switch. This is because the White-dominant cultural norm often falls away or is diluted by the fact that remote workers can work from home, where they may feel more comfortable.
While remote work does not eliminate microaggressions or feeling the need to code-switch, it can lessen the number of interactions underrepresented employees have with perpetrators and foster a safer environment for employees to set more rigorous boundaries. Remote work models often nurture independence and autonomy, allowing individuals to express themselves by promoting psychological safety.
Additionally, workers may feel less like they are under a microscope and less likely to be micromanaged in every aspect of their day. What may be a result of these changes, the sense of belonging has increased by 24% for Black knowledge workers, compared to 5% of White knowledge workers.
Remote and hybrid work is not a blanket solution to ongoing DEI efforts
Remote and hybrid work is not an all-encompassing solution to issues around bias, microagressions, and code-switching—but rather, the more flexibility we can offer to underrepresented groups, the more potential there is to foster authentic relationships and promote wellbeing for employees who have had to suffer from such bias for too long. It's still imperative for individual organizations to audit their current DEI initiatives and follow up on any reported instances of bias and discrimination.
Black workers are not the only underrepresented group that report a preference for flexible work. Women have also found success in the digital workplace.
2. Women and remote work benefits
According to a recent Future Forum Pulse survey, 33% of women reported a preference to work remotely versus 27% of men. Some women have found relief in being remote, breaking away from the grooming gap, or the stigma that to be a professional woman, you also have to be a professional beauty.
This double standard meant spending time each day before heading into the office to ‘dress to impress’. On average, women saved 55 minutes per day by not preparing to go into the office. Overall, 70% of women, compared to 66% of men, reported not having to “get dressed” for work in more formal and polished attire as a benefit of remote work.
While the data does not represent all women, this meaningful change showcases the nuanced ways in-office work may have exacerbated gender inequalities, and highlights the power of flexible work. This renewed work-life-balance also extend to people with disabilities.
3. People with disabilities and the digital workplace
In our recent interview with author of “Remote, Inc.” and Wall Street Journal contributor, Dr. Alexandra Samuel, she remarked on the benefits of remote and hybrid work for people with disabilities. She said, “People with disabilities who were not being offered appropriate accommodations in the workplace may find that all of the energy that previously went into simply getting to the office is now saved. For neurodivergent people who may not read body cues the same way other people do, that stops being a disadvantage when you’re not around a boardroom table and nobody has access to body language.” She continued, “Neurodivergent people may opt for a fully remote schedule so they can work in comfortable clothes instead of wasting energy on the sensory aversion of office clothes.”
It’s clear that many different employee demographics have experienced more equity and inclusion within flexible work environments, including working parents.
4. Working parents find flexibility essential
Location flexibility continues to be valuable to parents, including 83% of working mothers, an all-time high for that group. 60% of working mothers and 50% of working fathers now say they want to work outside the office three to five days a week.
Saving time commuting allows working parents to have more time with their children and reduces the burden of childcare. Parents don’t have to worry as much about taking time off for sick children. Without the commute time, parents can drop and pick children up at school, attend sporting and after school events, and help with homework.
Chandra Sanders, Director of RISE, the non-profit arm of The Mom Project, told Checkr in a recent interview about the importance of flexibility for working parents, "Workplaces and companies that are at the forefront of the future of work, which is flexible, will attract and retain the best and the top talent, period."
The flexibility provided by remote and hybrid work can facilitate employee wellbeing across many underrepresented groups, fostering stronger DEI within organizations.
Work-from-home can promote DEI
Working from home has promoted wellbeing, inclusion, and sense of belonging for many underrepresented groups in a variety of ways.
Many individuals feel remote work allows them to be judged on their work product rather than their ability to fit in with a particular work culture. Flexibility and more time spent at home can foster focus and productivity, removing the stress and anxiety of “fitting in”, whether that be through code-switching or dressing in a way that feels necessary for success.
Flexibility is the common thread that ties together the benefits of remote and hybrid work. When organizations can offer more flexibility, employees often experience a more authentic and realistic work-life-balance.
However, we must ensure that remote and hybrid work does not exacerbate underlying diversity, equity, and inclusion issues.
Learn more about building a successful and equitable remote or hybrid workplace in our blog, 3 Ways the Digital Workplace Can Put DEI at Risk (And How to Combat Them).