How to Successfully Integrate Your DEI Objectives With Hybrid Work

Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
September 9, 2022

As hybrid work has become more widespread, there have been unintended consequences that have affected Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) mandates at many companies. Some of the progress that’s been made through established DEI programs has been lost because companies have struggled to make hybrid work environments inclusive. 

Hybrid work introduces a unique variable which is the inequalities between in-office vs. remote employees, better known as proximity bias

While conventional DEI addresses inequalities around dimensions like race, gender and sexual orientation, most companies don’t have policies in place to address proximity bias, where managers favour in-office employees over remote employees since they are seen more often and are physically closer. And this word isn’t just a trend, since studies have found that remote employees have a 50% lower rate of promotion compared to their in-office peers. 

Whether this bias is deliberate or not, it gives in-office employees advantages that their remote working peers don’t get, leading to unequal access to leadership, career growth and networking opportunities. 

How Proximity Bias Hurts DEI

Conceptually, hybrid work can create a work environment that is more inclusive. Underrepresented employees can avoid microaggressions and biases that are prevalent in many office settings, alleviating the mental stress many experience because of these negative experiences. 

A Slack survey found that only 3% of Black workers in the U.S. wanted a full return to on-site work out of fear of microaggressions. Unfortunately, with more underrepresented employees expressing a preference towards working remotely compared to their peers, minorities will be disproportionately affected by proximity bias. 

Additional research by McKinsey also indicates that underrepresented employee groups have a stronger preference for hybrid work, Their research found that Nonbinary (+14%), LGBTQ2S+ (+13%) and employees with disabilities (+11%) were all more likely to prefer a hybrid work model over their counterparts. 

If not managed effectively, proximity bias can exacerbate the inequalities that underrepresented employees already have to deal with. It has been, for instance, a contributing factor to the widening gender gap we’ve seen the last few years. 

While 68% of women prefer to work from home, only 57% of men responded the same, mainly because women are still primarily responsible for managing the bulk of household duties. With more women choosing to work from home, it has led to unequal access to promotional opportunities. 

Most leaders acknowledge the damaging effects proximity bias can cause, but many are still unwilling to change their position on work-from-home policy. For example, a recent survey of 3,500 managers found that 77% of them believed that there should be penalties for employees who refuse to return back to the office. 

While 40% of executives list proximity bias as their top concern, they were still twice as likely to prefer work arrangements where employees were in the office at least three days a week. 

If leaders allow proximity bias to persist, it can be harmful to employee engagement and retention. Employees may feel pressure to work in the office even though they may have legitimate reasons for working remotely. This can lead to discontent, and ultimately, resignations. 

ADP’s Research Institute says that nearly two thirds of the global workforce would consider looking for a new job if their employer asked them to return to the office full-time. 

So how can leaders eliminate proximity bias, and create inclusive hybrid work environments?

Solutions to Integrating DEI into Hybrid

Solving proximity bias can help create conditions that can progress DEI. A hybrid work environment can bring more objectivity to performance evaluation. Free of judgment and bias, managers rely more heavily on outcome-based metrics to evaluate employees. But before companies can get there, they need to debunk myths around the productivity of remote employees.  

Many managers believe that remote employees are not as productive because their effort can’t be directly observed. But that simply isn't the case. In fact, remote workers have been shown to be even more productive in some cases. A study of 16,000 Stanford University employees found that after 9 months of working remotely, productivity actually increased by 13%. 

In a hybrid work environment, peer and cross-team feedback can help address this misconception around productivity. 

Create more visibility across remote and in-office environments

In many cases, remote employees’ efforts can’t be consistently observed by managers. This can lead to them drawing conclusions based on heuristics, rather than objective observation. Often, proximity bias will factor into those assumptions, but it can be removed from performance evaluations by placing a greater weight on peer and cross-team feedback. 

By doing so, managers will rely less on their own assumptions since they get a more complete view of an employee’s efforts. It also minimizes the possibility that in-office employees may benefit from building stronger rapport with leaders simply because they have more face-to-face access. 

In addition, Virtual connectivity solutions can support this approach by giving employees and leaders a central, measurable place to informally connect on their interests and goals. Connectivity programs can be designed to ensure employees are building their networks throughout the year, all while providing metrics around these connections. These metrics can be applied to employee performance evaluations, providing an objective approach to employee connections. 

Connectivity programs are also beneficial because they help employees broaden their networks, increase their sense of belonging and provide them with more career development opportunities.  

Create a mentoring program to connect employees with leaders

Formal mentoring programs also provide a way for employees to connect with leaders and peers to grow their networks and develop their skills. They also play an integral part in helping companies reach their DEI objectives. According to research by Harvard Business Review, mentorship programs can boost representation of Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American women, and Hispanic and Asian-American men to nearly 24% at the management level, an overall increase of up to 9%.

Companies like Nike, are also using mentorship as a means to achieving their ambitious 2025 inclusion goals

While the shift to hybrid has made traditional face-to-face mentor engagements more difficult, technology closes this gap. 

For example, 10KC’s DEI solution leverages mentorship by creating opportunities for diverse employees to learn new skills and make career-critical connections. It builds employee networks, provides access to leadership and develops their skills through Introductions and Office Hour events.

Provide Enterprise Resource Groups (ERGs) With The Tools To Go Virtual

ERGs can play a crucial role in supporting equity-seeking employees, especially in hybrid environments. By spearheading mentorship and networking opportunities, they help create an inclusive culture by connecting diverse employees with peer and ally networks. 

Virtual Office Hour events and group mentoring programs can provide structured time for leaders to speak about topics that are relevant to the challenges that underrepresented employees face. Common topics can include imposter syndrome, allyship, inclusive leadership, and advancing as leaders

ERGs also play an important role in establishing networking channels that provide underrepresented employees with a safe place to share freely and openly with peers. With solutions like 10KC’s DEI Programs, ERGs create high impact development experiences for both remote and in-office employees, making them more accessible by removing barriers through technology. 

Move To a Remote-First Policy From The Top Down

Most company leaders prefer to work from the office because they take comfort in its familiarity. Unfortunately, in a hybrid work environment, problems can arise when leaders express this preference. Employees can feel pressured to return to the office knowing this. Equity seeking employees may feel this pressure even more knowing that they already have additional obstacles building networks and gaining access to leaders compared to their peers. 

For companies that are committed to making hybrid work successful, it’s important to adopt a remote-first policy. This approach can help create a shift in leadership mentality, ensuring that they are held accountable to not fall into old habits and preferences of working from the office. 

Instead, the shift to remote-first can push leaders into new ways of thinking as they look for new approaches to engage their teams in a hybrid work setting. Leaders that embrace the change will explore new ways of connecting with employees.

Discover The Tools To Help You Achieve DEI Success in a Hybrid Work Environment

To progress your DEI mission in a hybrid work environment, you need to have the right technology to underpin your efforts. 10KC’s solutions will help you achieve your goals around diversity and inclusion. 

Download our DEI Solution to create an inclusive hybrid work environment for all employees today. 

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How to Successfully Integrate Your DEI Objectives With Hybrid Work

As hybrid work has become more widespread, there have been unintended consequences that have affected Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) mandates at many companies. Some of the progress that’s been made through established DEI programs has been lost because companies have struggled to make hybrid work environments inclusive. 

Hybrid work introduces a unique variable which is the inequalities between in-office vs. remote employees, better known as proximity bias

While conventional DEI addresses inequalities around dimensions like race, gender and sexual orientation, most companies don’t have policies in place to address proximity bias, where managers favour in-office employees over remote employees since they are seen more often and are physically closer. And this word isn’t just a trend, since studies have found that remote employees have a 50% lower rate of promotion compared to their in-office peers. 

Whether this bias is deliberate or not, it gives in-office employees advantages that their remote working peers don’t get, leading to unequal access to leadership, career growth and networking opportunities. 

How Proximity Bias Hurts DEI

Conceptually, hybrid work can create a work environment that is more inclusive. Underrepresented employees can avoid microaggressions and biases that are prevalent in many office settings, alleviating the mental stress many experience because of these negative experiences. 

A Slack survey found that only 3% of Black workers in the U.S. wanted a full return to on-site work out of fear of microaggressions. Unfortunately, with more underrepresented employees expressing a preference towards working remotely compared to their peers, minorities will be disproportionately affected by proximity bias. 

Additional research by McKinsey also indicates that underrepresented employee groups have a stronger preference for hybrid work, Their research found that Nonbinary (+14%), LGBTQ2S+ (+13%) and employees with disabilities (+11%) were all more likely to prefer a hybrid work model over their counterparts. 

If not managed effectively, proximity bias can exacerbate the inequalities that underrepresented employees already have to deal with. It has been, for instance, a contributing factor to the widening gender gap we’ve seen the last few years. 

While 68% of women prefer to work from home, only 57% of men responded the same, mainly because women are still primarily responsible for managing the bulk of household duties. With more women choosing to work from home, it has led to unequal access to promotional opportunities. 

Most leaders acknowledge the damaging effects proximity bias can cause, but many are still unwilling to change their position on work-from-home policy. For example, a recent survey of 3,500 managers found that 77% of them believed that there should be penalties for employees who refuse to return back to the office. 

While 40% of executives list proximity bias as their top concern, they were still twice as likely to prefer work arrangements where employees were in the office at least three days a week. 

If leaders allow proximity bias to persist, it can be harmful to employee engagement and retention. Employees may feel pressure to work in the office even though they may have legitimate reasons for working remotely. This can lead to discontent, and ultimately, resignations. 

ADP’s Research Institute says that nearly two thirds of the global workforce would consider looking for a new job if their employer asked them to return to the office full-time. 

So how can leaders eliminate proximity bias, and create inclusive hybrid work environments?

Solutions to Integrating DEI into Hybrid

Solving proximity bias can help create conditions that can progress DEI. A hybrid work environment can bring more objectivity to performance evaluation. Free of judgment and bias, managers rely more heavily on outcome-based metrics to evaluate employees. But before companies can get there, they need to debunk myths around the productivity of remote employees.  

Many managers believe that remote employees are not as productive because their effort can’t be directly observed. But that simply isn't the case. In fact, remote workers have been shown to be even more productive in some cases. A study of 16,000 Stanford University employees found that after 9 months of working remotely, productivity actually increased by 13%. 

In a hybrid work environment, peer and cross-team feedback can help address this misconception around productivity. 

Create more visibility across remote and in-office environments

In many cases, remote employees’ efforts can’t be consistently observed by managers. This can lead to them drawing conclusions based on heuristics, rather than objective observation. Often, proximity bias will factor into those assumptions, but it can be removed from performance evaluations by placing a greater weight on peer and cross-team feedback. 

By doing so, managers will rely less on their own assumptions since they get a more complete view of an employee’s efforts. It also minimizes the possibility that in-office employees may benefit from building stronger rapport with leaders simply because they have more face-to-face access. 

In addition, Virtual connectivity solutions can support this approach by giving employees and leaders a central, measurable place to informally connect on their interests and goals. Connectivity programs can be designed to ensure employees are building their networks throughout the year, all while providing metrics around these connections. These metrics can be applied to employee performance evaluations, providing an objective approach to employee connections. 

Connectivity programs are also beneficial because they help employees broaden their networks, increase their sense of belonging and provide them with more career development opportunities.  

Create a mentoring program to connect employees with leaders

Formal mentoring programs also provide a way for employees to connect with leaders and peers to grow their networks and develop their skills. They also play an integral part in helping companies reach their DEI objectives. According to research by Harvard Business Review, mentorship programs can boost representation of Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American women, and Hispanic and Asian-American men to nearly 24% at the management level, an overall increase of up to 9%.

Companies like Nike, are also using mentorship as a means to achieving their ambitious 2025 inclusion goals

While the shift to hybrid has made traditional face-to-face mentor engagements more difficult, technology closes this gap. 

For example, 10KC’s DEI solution leverages mentorship by creating opportunities for diverse employees to learn new skills and make career-critical connections. It builds employee networks, provides access to leadership and develops their skills through Introductions and Office Hour events.

Provide Enterprise Resource Groups (ERGs) With The Tools To Go Virtual

ERGs can play a crucial role in supporting equity-seeking employees, especially in hybrid environments. By spearheading mentorship and networking opportunities, they help create an inclusive culture by connecting diverse employees with peer and ally networks. 

Virtual Office Hour events and group mentoring programs can provide structured time for leaders to speak about topics that are relevant to the challenges that underrepresented employees face. Common topics can include imposter syndrome, allyship, inclusive leadership, and advancing as leaders

ERGs also play an important role in establishing networking channels that provide underrepresented employees with a safe place to share freely and openly with peers. With solutions like 10KC’s DEI Programs, ERGs create high impact development experiences for both remote and in-office employees, making them more accessible by removing barriers through technology. 

Move To a Remote-First Policy From The Top Down

Most company leaders prefer to work from the office because they take comfort in its familiarity. Unfortunately, in a hybrid work environment, problems can arise when leaders express this preference. Employees can feel pressured to return to the office knowing this. Equity seeking employees may feel this pressure even more knowing that they already have additional obstacles building networks and gaining access to leaders compared to their peers. 

For companies that are committed to making hybrid work successful, it’s important to adopt a remote-first policy. This approach can help create a shift in leadership mentality, ensuring that they are held accountable to not fall into old habits and preferences of working from the office. 

Instead, the shift to remote-first can push leaders into new ways of thinking as they look for new approaches to engage their teams in a hybrid work setting. Leaders that embrace the change will explore new ways of connecting with employees.

Discover The Tools To Help You Achieve DEI Success in a Hybrid Work Environment

To progress your DEI mission in a hybrid work environment, you need to have the right technology to underpin your efforts. 10KC’s solutions will help you achieve your goals around diversity and inclusion. 

Download our DEI Solution to create an inclusive hybrid work environment for all employees today. 

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