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The Accessibility of Remote Work Alone Doesn’t Make a Company Inclusive. You Must Be Intentional About Diversity.

Some companies feel they’ve checked the inclusivity box by merely offering remote work. But remote work is the beginning, not the end, of the quest for inclusion. Haley Shoaf, the VP of impact at LaunchCode, outlines three actionable steps company leaders can take to practice intentional inclusivity.

Before COVID-19, remote work was something of a luxury reserved for particular kinds of workplaces. Now, more of us are working remotely than ever, and companies that had never imagined a flexible workforce are waking up to the idea.

If remote work was a key hurdle for companies trying to make their workplaces more diverse, we should be entering a brighter world for inclusivity. Yet there are still barriers we have to overcome to make people who are not white and male actually feel integral. This is especially true in the tech space, where out-of-date policies still hinder diversity.

Why Remote Work Is the Tip of the Iceberg for Diversity

Accessibility is a core feature of diversity. The limitations caused by COVID-19 have shown workplace leaders that a broader range of work environments and schedules is possible. Employees who previously had to fit into a traditional office environment that didn’t work for their disability or neurodiversity can now enjoy the freedom of creating their own environment, for example.

Hopefully, leaders have found that this increased accessibility — no matter how accidental — has opened up new benefits and opportunities for their teams. People who struggled to afford reliable transportation or rent close to the office can relax a little. Parents can shift work around childcare responsibilities (at least to some extent).

However, some companies feel they’ve checked the inclusivity box by merely offering remote work. Remote work is not a one-size-fits-all solution to accessibility; it’s not the same as intentionally designing systems to be inclusive for all races and abilities.

Tensions exist between diversity initiatives and other policies that still exclude certain groups. A company may have revised its marketing materials to represent people of various races, for example, but still clings to a hiring process that favors top-tier universities where members of minority groups are less likely to thrive.

Some of these tensions come down to a lack of awareness. Employers act on subconscious biases when hiring, or they focus too heavily on hiring diversely while neglecting the workplace’s actual environment. It’s one reason you find women leaving tech companies at a rate that’s two times faster than their male counterparts.

How Tech Leaders Can Go Beyond Remote Work to Create Real Inclusivity

C-suite members at tech companies need to overcome these additional barriers to diversity now that remote work has become commonplace. Here are some actionable steps they can take to start practicing intentional inclusivity:

  1. Think beyond the physical location. Yes, remote working is good for accessibility, but many factors go into being successful at work, regardless of where you’re working from. Keep asking questions about how your team gets work done. Do employees have adequate space to work? Do they have reliable childcare? Do they have access to the tech they need to excel at their jobs?
    Company leaders may not know the answers to these questions right off the bat, of course. You need to actively ask employees what they need to succeed, even if it’s through an anonymous survey. Your employees know best what type of environment and cultures they work most effectively in. Find out what they need, and be ready to implement changes and policies in direct response.
  2. Go beyond mentorship. Mentorship is great, but sponsorship is better. Mentorship is crucial for creating an environment where inclusion and diversity thrive, but it needs to go beyond gentle guidance during the onboarding phase. Sponsorship is a deeper level of advocacy that extends through an employee’s career. It means providing people with opportunities and connections that help them achieve their professional goals.
    There are simple things business leaders can do to create a culture of sponsorship. You can cultivate speaking opportunities for lower-level employees, for instance, increasing their visibility and allowing them to showcase their expertise on something they’re passionate about. Be mindful when assigning projects or creating teams as well. By elevating lower-level employees to project management roles and surrounding them with others who will guide and encourage them, you can invest in their professional development in an impactful way.
  3. Constantly revamp your talent strategy. Alternative hiring sources and training avenues can bring highly motivated, diverse talent to your organization. Many leaders make the mistake of only trusting traditional four-year college graduate pathways, but candidates with different life experiences bring additional perspectives and soft skills to the table.
    Alternatively trained students often enter programs with a breadth of vocational and educational backgrounds, are bold and ambitious enough to explore a career change, and have proven their tenacity by completing their programs while working on the side or taking care of children. These are the diverse and resilient minds you should be inviting into your team.

Remote work has emerged from this time of crisis as an opportunity for greater accessibility. But for leaders, the job of making workplaces truly inclusive has only just begun.

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Haley Shoaf
Haley Shoaf is the VP of impact at LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals. Haley Shoaf is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.