The ongoing conversation around the globe regarding diversity and discrimination has been made even more relevant with the current pandemic and with many of the news stories that have captured the attention of many of us worldwide. For instance, the wrongful death of George Floyd, a black man in America, has contributed to the ongoing discussions around the world regarding racism. In addition, here in the UK, the death of Sarah Everard, aged 33, has sparked much debate surrounding sexual harassment and gender inequality.
As the world adapts and changes so must business. Business owners should reflect on their own staff, their cultures and different backgrounds. They should seek to be inclusive and self aware of any biases, deliberate or not, which prevent an inclusive work environment.
The Benefits of Promoting Equality and Diversity
It is important to note that efforts to make work spaces more inclusive, should be done so with the best interests of staff in mind first. To create a more fair and considerate environment, free of discrimination, is essential in ensuring positive well-being for staff and in building trust.
However, this does not mean that action taken for equality isn’t relevant in business growth. In fact, quite the opposite. Recent statistics show that more diverse and inclusive organisations are:
- 70% more likely to capture new markets.
- 33% more profitable
- 19% better for innovation.
One reason for statistics such as these, could be that by embracing different backgrounds and cultures, it allows for different viewpoints and perspectives to be considered that might not be in a less diverse company where everyone has similar backgrounds. Being inclusive helps public image too, ensuring customers that your business is one that is ethical and cares.
Remote Working – The Good News
The good news is that there is some evidence from top worldwide businesses suggesting that remote working has made some positive changes for equality. For example, Suresh Kumar, CTO at Walmart after implementing remote working for her employees states “meetings are now more inclusive of people regardless of location, level or other differences. We have great momentum and need to figure out how to carry it forward”. Thus, employees who don’t feel represented or singled out as a minority, may feel more comfortable working from home. Furthermore, having remote workers may indirectly help prevent issues of workplace abuse such as sexual harassment and bullying as there is less time for employees to communicate directly.
In addition, remote workers with disabilities may benefit in terms of accessibility. For example, people with physical disabilities, such as those with mobility issues, may struggle with the travel between work and home and may benefit from being remote workers where home is already set up for their needs.
Caregivers may also find the ability to work remotely useful. People with a responsibility to look after someone, may that be an elderly relative or a person with a disability, might find being remote workers best supports them by giving them more time to support those they are caring for.
Setbacks and Employer Considerations for Remote Workers:
If there is one feeling we can all relate too during this pandemic, regardless of our individual backgrounds, is the feeling of loneliness and isolation. From a business perspective, employers should consider those who are working from home to ensure their opinions are heard. Employers should consider minority background workers in this regard too. Minority background workers in some organizations may already struggle to feel represented while in the office so it is of utmost importance to ensure they are heard when transitioning from in office to home working. In practice, one way of going about this is ensuring that as an employer that staff are spoken too on a one on one basis as well as in group meetings, this in turn should help everyone’s voices be heard and allow people to voice more personal complaints when needed.
Where representation lacks discrimination can arrise, both in and outside the office. This can be seen with company dress codes. A study by the Perception Institute in 2017 found that one in five black women feel pressured to straighten their hair for work. Furthermore, some hairstyles such as afros and dreadlocks are considered to be linked with peoples cultures and forcing someone to change these hairstyle can be considered discriminatory. Issues such as this show the vital importance of representation so that other cultures and beliefs can be heard and understood. For this example, employers should engage with staff so there is an agreed upon understanding of what is an appropriate dress code. Furthermore, for hybrid/ remote workers employers may want to consider whether a dress code is even appropriate in the first place.
If you would like to know more about creating a people first culture in the workplace, check out out recent article on the CEO of Mercedes Formula 1 – Toto Wolff.
Gender Equality for Remote Workers
One issue that’s present for some women working remotely from home is the struggle to balance work and domestic life. For example, a recent study has shown that women take up more domestic work while working from home than that of men. The inequality here for business is made relevant as the time dedicated to domestic work makes it harder for women to work more hours and contribute in the same way that a male employee could. If left unnoticed, this could lead to an unconscious bias where women are overlooked for pay raises and promotions as they might seem less committed in comparison to a male worker who doesn’t have the same out of work responsibilities. To combat this, employers should consider all their employees as individuals and take into account their individual situations when making decisions regarding pay raises and promotions. For pay raises and promotions, the implementation of a committee to help guide these decisions will help provide different viewpoints that should help negate unconscious biases such as with gender mentioned above.
Remote Workers with Disabilities Considerations
Employers have a significant responsibility under The Equality Act 2010 to ensure that remote workers have the right support whilst away from the workplace. For example, people who are deaf or have hearing impairments might struggle in participating in a video conference without equipment given to help facilitate this. Equipment that an employer may provide to give support in this case may include:
- speech to text software such as Dragon anywhere, Dragon Professional and Otter. Upper range software usually falls around £100/150 but other software such as Otter to provide limited free services.
- specialist phones for the hard of hearing – for example Polycom VVX 301 (cordless amplified phone priced around £75).
- An interpreter to help explain what is being discussed, enabling engagement. Prices here may vary but for people who are deafblind, an interpreter is approximately £35 per hour including a three hour minimum call out fee and travel expenses.
Age Discrimination Considerations for Remote Workers
According to research by the AARP in the US, as many as 64% of businesses have a strategy for diversity and inclusion, however only 8% include age. Age is often overlooked regarding diversity in the workplace yet is significantly important to both young and old people alike. A common form of discrimination in within business is the notion that old people are not as capable of handling technology as younger people.
Furthermore, as many of us now work at home because of the pandemic, our reliance on technology such as computers and laptops are at an all time high. Employers with senior members of staff should listen and work closely with them in order to help facilitate them in understanding the necessary technological tools. However, employers should
also note that assuming an elderly staff member needs this support can come across as patronising so one should listen first then facilitate when needed.
Back in the Office – Considerations in Equality and Diversity
We now enter an exciting time for many, finally free from lockdown rules. However, for some this means going back to the office rather than working from home and for hybrid workers this may mean splitting their time between both work places. In advance of these changes employers should take time to consider their teams and their own management in order to ensure a safe and inclusive environment.
Ensure that the Laws are Understood
Employers should already be aware that they have a duty of care under The Equality Act 2010 to ensure that all their staff are treated fairly and without discrimination. However, it is important for staff to recognise this responsibility also.
Engaging staff in Diversity and Inclusion training that covers the laws regarding diversity and inclusivity can be great for allowing communication between staff to voice concerns and understand the importance of having a diverse and inclusive workforce. This training would ideally cover what is protected under current discrimination law and should inform staff of how they can voice any concerns in a way that is private and confidential. Allowing complaints to be made confidentially is extremely important as people who feel they are being bullied or discriminated against may fear repercussions of speaking out from the person they are accusing.
Areas for diversity and inclusion to be considered in the workplace:
Gender Equality in the Workplace
Half of women report experiencing sexual harassment while at work in the UK. This information is taken from research drawing from a sample of over 1500 women that found over 50% of women note groping and inappropriate jokes as forms of harassment they have been subjected too. The issue of the treatment of women in the workplace has been a much debated topic over recent years alongside over issues such as pay with many pointing to a gender pay gap between men and women where women are shown to be paid, on average, less for doing the same work as men. Furthermore, as of 2020, according to the bureau of labour statistics, women’s earnings were 82.3% of men’s earnings, and for women of colour even less so.
To prevent gender in equality in the workplace, employers should ensure that there is a code of conduct implemented in the workplace that is understood by staff clearly and reflected upon when it is violated. Complaints regarding sexual harassment should be taken very seriously and where victims struggle to talk to their employers surrounding issues, a clear process should be in place to help voice complaints. Perpetrators of sexual harassment should always be made aware that their actions will not be tolerated and are a criminal offence.
Age Discrimination in the Workplace
Where workforces employ staff with a wide age range of employees, it can become very easy for staff elderly or not to separate themselves into separate groups. This clique mentality can be harmful, however, for both young and old.
It is unfortunately quite common for young people to experience dicrimination for their age by being undervalued and unconsidered in having their voices heard and being considered for promotions and pay rises. Employers in this instance should take strong leadership in ensuring that young people are heard within their workforce and are considered for all the same opportunities as other members of staff. It should also be made known within the workplace that age discrimination is a crime as it is not as regularly considered as other forms of discrimination.
Older members of staff are also easily discriminated against as we have mentioned previously with the example of technology usage. It is an issue that can affect people of all ages and requires a unison of people both young and old in order to combat this issue effectively.TO combat this employers may want to consider the use of hot seating (the frequent changing of seating arrangements and working groups) to break down group barriers and the formations of cliques which can be discriminatory.
Beware of Unconscious Bias
Another thing to consider regarding diversity and inclusion in the workplace and for remote workers is that not all discrimination is done intentionally. An important characteristic of a strong business leader and a strong workforce is understanding that we are all human beings and that mistakes can be made and discrimination can happen unconciously. It is also important when discussing unconscious bias that these are not just limited to race, gender and ethnicity as made evident below.
Here are a few examples of unconcious discrimination that can easily take place if left unnoticed:
Affinity Bias – Often present in the hiring process of businesses where business owners intend to hire people they know they will get along with. The bias here occurs as the people selected are likely very similar to the hirers themselves with similar interests and backgrounds which in turn can exclude people of different backgrounds.
One solution here is the implementation of a committee to provide differing opinions during the hiring process. This is a great way to help employees feel valued and trusted with their opinions and will help allow applicants to be considered who may not be otherwise.
Attribution bias – Attribution bias refers to bias that is caused when someone judges the character of another person based on previous experiences with them. Again, on the surface this doesn’t seem so bad. However, drawing again on the hiring process of companies, where background information isn’t abundant it can be easy to make quick judgements about people based on very few factors e.g their previous work experiences.
Avoiding attribution bias for interviews requires the interview to be considerate of any nerves that might affect interview performance and to communicate effectively about any hesitations that might arise from readings of CV’s. It is very easy to make judgments too quickly.
Beauty Bias – Studies have shown that people perceived to be more attractive are often more successful in interviews and receive higher incomes. One suggested reason for this bias is that attractive people are deemed to be happier and more confident.
A simple solution to beauty bias for employers might be to conduct interviews and consider CV’s without face to face interaction first in order to not make quick judgements based on appearance.
Authority bias – Where businesses have hierarchical structures, it can be easy for lower ranking employees to not have their opinions heard. This is an important bias for business owners to acknowledge as it is important to realise that just because someone doesn’t have the same level of seniority, that does not mean they won’t have good suggestions or ideas.
1 on 1 meetings with staff can help ensure that no one is left unnoticed within a workforce. However, employers should try and promote an environment in which ideas and suggestions are welcomed regardless of where one might rank within a workplace.
3 Key Takeaways to Ensure a Diverse and Inclusive Working environment, in the Office and at Home
- Communication – Communication is essential for any employer who wants to ensure that their employees’ opinions are heard and that they feel represented whether for race, gender or any other factor. Communication in a diverse workforce can also be very beneficial in providing unique perspectives that can further in a business sense by helping an organisation reach new markets.
- Discrimination and abuse is not just bullying it is a crime – Employers and employees alike should be equally aware of the concequences that can arise in the form of legal action and job termination for any abuse administored as a result of someone identity. Employees should also be made aware of their rights regarding the law.
- Bias is not always easy to spot – Not all discrimination is made evident such as verbal and physical abuse in forms such as racism and sexism. Lesser considered biases relating to appearance, authority and affinity biases can easily go unaccounted for without processes in place to recognise these and take necessary action to avoid such discrimination.
If you would like more support and guidance on how to set your business apart as one that is diverse and inclusive contact us or schedule a call.
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