Rethinking office space extends beyond desk configurations and coffee areas. It requires a focus on the inclusivity of space. Pre-pandemic culture and physical spaces were riddled with barriers for multiple groups.
The disconnect of equality in the workplace is now clear, and minorities, disabled workers, women, and working parents are the hardest hit.
We spoke with workplace leaders experiencing these challenges to discover how they are using the hybrid work movement to create more inclusive spaces for their teams.
What made the old way exclusionary?
Research from WHF suggests the drain of code-switching is responsible for the desire for minorities to work from home. For example, Black workers feel the need to change how they dress, style their hair, and even speak, while at work.
While 21% of white professionals have a desire to return to the office full-time, only 3% of black professionals can say the same. Women are 30% more likely than men to want a full-time remote position, largely due to childcare issues.
Disabled individuals don’t feel comfortable acting like themselves at work. This perspective is mirrored by the majority of employees and executives who want to be fully transparent about their disabilities.
Most employers believe they promote inclusivity — yet only 33% of employees agree.
Studies have shown that when it comes to increasing diversity in the workforce, companies are making little progress. The main contributor to businesses not doing enough to diversify the workforce is a lack of incentive to make changes at a micro-level and little understanding of how and where to find minority talent.
One benefit of remote work is the decrease of restrictions and barriers. "Remote work has certainly improved participation," says Healthcare and Leadership Consultant Jamiu O. Busari. “By increasing access for the less privileged and reducing barriers, the threshold for inclusion has been lowered.”
Often times, these barriers are formed both intentionally and unintentionally. One person we spoke with, who wished to remain anonymous, shared, “One of the biggest barriers from companies is making every employee feel valued and building a culture where a non-white person or neurodivergent person is not scared or worried to speak their mind. During meetings, our manager assumed that myself and a colleague were shy because we were quiet, but in our Asian culture, it’s frowned upon to speak out of turn.”
One of the positive outcomes of the acceleration toward remote and hybrid work is the realization that companies can hire employees without geographic barriers. This flexibility has opened up great possibilities for hiring more diverse talent.
People with disabilities
In 2018, Accenture estimated that the GDP could get a boost of up to $25 billion if just 1% more people with disabilities joined the US labor force. Unfortunately, businesses still fall short.
While the chance for remote work would seem like an opportunity for the disabled, economic crises are notoriously competitive, leading to recruiters giving priority to non-disabled individuals. As little as 11% of employers actively recruit disabled individuals, while a mere 1 in 8 recruiters makes hiring workers with disabilities a priority.
With 83% of disabled remote workers only able to work because they do so remotely, the permanent shift towards a remote or hybrid workforce is a huge opportunity for greater inclusivity.
As tech stacks continue to grow within the hybrid workforce, innovations like brain-computer interfaces rapidly increased in popularity, giving options for supporting disabilities in the workplace that have never been feasible before.
Companies like Capita have embraced the switch to remote working as an opportunity to create greater inclusivity by taking the time to develop neurodiversity employment initiatives and redesign their spaces.
Prior to the global events of 2020, mothers in the workplace appeared to be making progress in gaining an equal footing, yet one in three were still considering shifting their careers down a gear or leaving the workforce completely. The pandemic has put even greater strain on this demographic — struggling to juggle the sudden onslaught of increased household responsibilities, childcare issues, homeschooling, and concerns over rising unemployment rates.
The pressure is even greater for those of color, with Latina mothers 1.6 times more likely to bear the brunt of additional housework and childcare needs, while such duties are twice as likely to fall to Black mothers.
As a result, 62% of working parents are emerging from the pandemic firm in their conviction that employers can either allow them to work remotely or lose them.
Flexible workplaces make childcare easier — and give parents more time with their families. For some of these parents, hybrid work is not just compelling — it's a requirement. Employers who don't embrace flexible work will fall behind.
An opportunity for change
The pandemic has forced a change in perspective for many businesses. Companies are significantly missing out on or losing top talent by failing to create inclusive workplaces. As a result, managers are reassessing their spaces, realizing how exclusive their working environments previously were for individuals with far more potential than they had room to express.
The question for companies and workplace leaders becomes how much talent have we lost out on due to overlooking existing unsupportive workplaces? The rise of remote-first working is a chance for us to reassess the culture of our workplaces and seek opportunities to broaden our inclusivity.