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    How to Make Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) a Reality in Hybrid Work

    October 27, 2022

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    DEI a Reality in A Hybrid Work Environment
    Sushma Nagendran
    Written By
    Sushma Nagendran
    Hybrid Work

    As companies across the globe transition to a hybrid work model, many have realized that a one-model-fits-all hybrid work plan is not a viable solution for all their employees. A well-planned structure is necessary to build and sustain diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the organization. This article shares 12 actionable tips to help you achieve structural DEI at your organization.  

    Diversity is the co-existence of employees from different social and cultural backgrounds with varying physical and neurodivergent capabilities. For diversity to be impactful, organizations must ensure:

    • Equity: where everyone has the same access to opportunities and advancement
    • Inclusion: where people with different identities are made to feel like they belong

    In addition to boosting employee engagement and retention, there is data to show that diverse companies have a positive impact on performance management and therefore simply outperform companies that aren’t as diverse. A global McKinsey & Company’s study showed that companies with gender and ethnic diversity were 15% and 35%, respectively, more likely to outperform less diverse peers.

    However, it is important to steer clear of tokenism and isolated sensitivity training sessions. DEI policies must be a part of the very fabric of an organization, and percolate from the leadership to each employee.  

    McKinsey’s research shows that employees are 47% more likely to stay with an organization if it is inclusive. They are also 7x more likely to say their organization is high-performing if it promotes inclusivity. 

    Here are 12 ways you can ensure that your HR processes reinforce the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion and create an environment that is conducive to productivity and everyone’s well-being.

    1. Create inclusive communication policies

    Continuous communication and collaboration are among the key pillars on which an organization’s success rests. However, not having inclusive communication processes can cause challenges, blocking remote workers out of certain conversations. For example, collaboration happening over watercooler chats or on unofficial communication channels can inadvertently exclude those working remotely. Inclusive communication channels should also ensure that channels are accessible to people with different physical and cognitive capabilities. This requires accessibility-focused websites, communication platforms, and mobile apps. Companies need to invest in remote-friendly communication channels that can be accessed from any location, on any device.

    It is important to keep in mind that offline conversations at work at the water cooler, during smoke breaks, at the cafeteria, etc., are the norm at most organizations. While this cannot be completely eliminated, companies must have guidelines on what can and cannot be discussed informally to prevent the exclusion of employees from work-related discussions in the long term, there has to be a culture of DEI-aware communication so that everyone can participate equally in the organizational community.

    HR must urge employees to stick to inclusive communication practices to make hybrid work a success. It is ideal to have conversations with employees and understand the unique needs of your organization before formulating the communication policies.

    2. Initiate employee assistance programs (EAPs)

    A structural approach to DEI positions it as a core corporate value. This means there are formal programs, policies, and channels in place to integrate DEI initiatives with the daily functioning of the organization without leaving it to the choice of individual employees. Organizations that want to position DEI as a core value can deploy employee assistance programs, especially for those returning to the office after months or even years of remote work. This will help:

    1. Navigate the mental health implications of resuming office-based work
    2. Find support for personal obligations, such as childcare for working parents 
    3. Share any grievances or complaints in a safe space
    4. Obtain access to counsellors who can provide assistance based on the needs of different groups

    3. Ensure 360-degree feedback to counter bias during performance appraisals

    A 360-degree feedback system has several advantages over the traditional appraisal method that relies on reviews by only one manager. Not only does it provide a more accurate picture of an employee’s performance, it also counters the bias that a single person may consciously or unconsciously display when conducting reviews.

    For example, a manager may rate employees spending more time in the office higher than those working from home, simply due to personal perception. When you combine individual opinion with feedback from other stakeholders such as the employee's peers, mentors, junior team members, etc., one person’s subjective opinion is no longer the only deciding factor for performance appraisal. Ultimately, a 360-degree feedback system (with zero tolerance for discrimination and bias) will create a platform for managers and teams to give honest feedback in the long term and support structural DEI.

    4. Build personalized employee development programs

    To ensure equity, organizations must actively empower each employee to reach their goals. Affirmative action, for example, ensures that historically disadvantaged groups are provided with adequate representation to counter systemic bias.

    Personalized employee development plans and growth trajectories charted to match individual needs are essential for employee and organizational growth. For example, a talented professional without the same formal education as their peers may benefit from additional training and a tailored development plan. This has to be supported at the policy and technology levels so that managers are empowered to chart individual development pathways.

    Read More: Gender Diversity in the Workplace: Importance and Benefits

    5. Focus on output to eliminate proximity bias

    Proximity bias is a common challenge in hybrid work environments. Gartner data shows that many managers believe onsite employees are better performers, but that is not true. This belief is due to human beings’ tendency to favor people who are closer and more familiar than those further away.

    Further, such a culture of presenteeism tends to favor employees belonging to privileged groups and heteronormative backgrounds. A report by the National Bureau of Economic Research studying 30,000 US workers found that high-income men in their 30s and 40s were the most satisfied with and benefited the most from remote work. This negatively impacts structural DEI in the workplace. Managers and employees must be given anti-bias training to counter this. This training has to be structurally built into the leadership development pathway and Key Result Areas (KRA). This will help build a more outcome-centric culture that favors results and not facetime or attendance.

    6. Create quantifiable performance targets

    As a corollary to anti-proximity bias training, organizations need to set clear performance targets that can be quantified and measured without relying on subjective opinions. For example, several companies still follow a subjective KRA model that may reward intangible achievements like teamwork or etiquette which are difficult for remote and on-site workers to demonstrate. Instead, quantifiable targets based on objective systems like OKRs can help promote DEI in a structural and sustainable manner.

    7. Focus on strengths, not shortcomings

    There are two types of performance management: a model that tries to identify and address weaknesses, or a model that identifies and builds on strengths. The latter encourages structural DEI, as it gives every employee the opportunity to shine in their own way. It does not allow existing disadvantages to get further impacted by hybrid work. Instead, it recognizes the qualities that an employee brings to the table as an individual and a professional.  

    Research published by Organizational Psychology also shows that a strength-based model improves manager-employee relations and provides greater motivation for improving performance.

    8. Create an environment of allyship and promote diversity champions 

    Allyship encourages employees in a position of privilege to recognize the power that they hold, and to extend support to those who may not enjoy the same privilege. In recent years, companies prioritizing structural DEI have incorporated allyship into their workplace culture. When switching to hybrid work, an allyship program will give disadvantaged groups the support they need to transition smoothly. It will also create a workplace where employees feel psychologically safe and any microaggressions are immediately flagged.

    You can hire a chief diversity officer (CDO) who will take ownership of building strategies that attract, hire, and retain diverse employees. CDOs can also identify diversity champions at the workplace, so there is someone to take charge of disseminating DEI communication, culture, and policies at a grassroots level while working in a hybrid environment.

    Diversity champion initiatives can also provide representation to groups such as LGBTQ+ employees, ethnic minorities, military veterans, and people with disabilities, some of whom may face unique challenges as offices reopen and remote working is scaled down. A diversity champion program aims to highlight these issues and share first-hand experiences with the entire workforce.

    9. Conduct payroll audits 

    Pay equity is key to structural DEI, as it makes sure that employees doing the same job are paid at par, without being influenced by demographic factors. It is a top priority for 66% of companies in 2022, as per a Payscale survey, but remains difficult to achieve – as evident from the 6% wage gap in Apple’s pay equity survey analysis in 2021.

    To ensure this, companies must undertake regular audits to understand the state of pay equity and the gaps that need to be addressed, particularly after switching to a hybrid working model. Additionally, internal and independent audits should be part of the annual financial health check process.

    10. Commit openly to DEI goals

    While DEI is often executed by team members and managers, there should also be a formal acknowledgment from the leadership on the inequalities and the need to create a more level playing field.  A public commitment to DEI goals ensures that diversity initiatives are followed through.

    DEI must be structurally embedded into the corporate culture from both tactical and strategic viewpoints.  A public commitment will not only keep everyone on the same page and increase accountability but will also add to market goodwill around the company.  It should also be a part of the company’s growth plan and leaders should explain how it helps the company grow in the long term.

    Read More: Four Types of Organizational Culture: Explained

    11. Fix the “broken rung” with mentorship programs

    A seminal 2019 study identified the broken rung phenomena in the workplace. Just as the glass ceiling prevents women and disadvantaged groups from progressing beyond a certain point on the corporate ladder, the broken rung prevents them from receiving that first promotion, which acts as a leg-up towards further progress. Hybrid work can further exacerbate this situation if companies fail to take preventive measures. For example, a woman on the leadership development track may be neglected during succession planning due to the effects of proximity bias – since women are typically tasked with more caregiving duties, which may take away from in-person facetime.

    Studies reveal that women have been disproportionately impacted by this phenomenon in the past two years. More responsibilities at home and in the workplace has caused increased burnout among women, with 42% of women "often or almost always" experiencing burnout symptoms in 2021 vs. 32% in 2020. A high degree of burnout can exacerbate the pre-existing broken rung and makes it harder for women to break into leadership roles.

    To address this, companies can invest in mentorship programs to train and support women leaders. Mentors can help hybrid working employees to navigate their professional lives, build new skills, and gradually become part of the company’s succession plan.

    12. Collect comprehensive employee demographic data

    Structural DEI is incomplete without proper data on employee demographics and representation in the workplace. Data collection is essential when transitioning from a remote to an in-office or hybrid working model as this can significantly change workforce demographics.

    Data collection should encompass different socioeconomic groups, gender identities, ethnic minorities, disability status, and other demographics that may be unique to your region. The data should also be properly anonymized before you can form a baseline and map DEI trends over time – both to protect employee privacy and prevent individual bias from influencing the insights. Quantifiable data and metrics must be complemented with qualitative data, collected through open-ended employee surveys and questionnaires. Over time, this will help monitor workforce composition, the effects of DEI initiatives, and identify if hybrid work is causing retention/attrition among certain groups.

    Read More: Ensuring Inclusivity in the New Normal: In Conversation with Priya Chakravarty from Essar Capital 

    To embrace structural DEI in hybrid work, companies must first recognize the benefits of investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion as a corporate value and priority.

    Given that the Great Resignation of the last few years has made attracting and retaining talent a major problem for companies, the importance of DEI cannot be ignored. The 12 tips and action points discussed in this article, can be a starting point as you begin or accelerate your DEI journey in a hybrid working world. Comprehensive employee data, fair and objective reviews, modern payroll systems, and tools to measure and improve employee experiences across demographics will further aid this process.

    Find out how a cloud-based solution can help achieve DEI goals and build a diverse and inclusive workplace. Schedule a demo with Darwinbox today!

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