Promoting diversity and inclusion in an organization can be a challenge in any “normal” work setting; in a world where virtual or hybrid work is rapidly becoming the default setting, there are even more obstacles to building up a DEI plan.
So, what are the challenges of promoting DEI through virtual teams—and what are the best practices organizations can take to keep growing this critical aspect of the business landscape? Here’s an outline of some of the common challenges and the necessary solutions.
Most leaders are aware of the importance of diversity and inclusion—but in a rapidly-changing virtual environment with many different elements to manage, DEI might not get the coverage and attention it deserves or needs. For example, boardrooms or corporate leadership might be hesitant to start or pick up any new DEI measures until things “settle down” or “get back to normal” with in-person office work.
It’s critical to remind decision-makers and stakeholders of the essential business edge diversity and inclusion provides. Touting the benefits of DEI initiatives in the hybrid or remote workplace is an effective measure. Remind leadership that:
- Diversity boosts innovation: High-diversity companies offer up to 19% higher innovation revenues, per the Harvard Business Review.
- Diversity brings in more customers. Diverse leadership at the top of the companies helps to expand the customer base by up to 70%, another Harvard Business Review study stated.
- Diversity sparks collaboration. A Changeboard study showed that diverse teams are up to 57% more collaborative.
- Diversity cuts down on turnover and attracts talent. Diverse, inclusive organizations retain employees at a rate 19% higher than others (per the Corporate Leadership Council); additionally, 2/3rds of modern job seekers examine a company’s diversity before applying, per Glassdoor.
- Diversity makes organizations more profitable. A landmark McKinsey report showed that diverse companies are 33% more profitable than others.
Different Regions, Different Priorities
In a global, virtual working environment, the “one size fits all” or “canned” approach of many diversity, equity, and inclusion solutions can be ineffective — or, even worse, actually counterproductive. For organizations that cross borders and cross cultures, a customized virtual approach to DEI — taking into account the unique history and dynamics of those countries and cultures — is the only way to achieve the results profiled above. Additionally, while some individuals may be working virtually, different geographies or functions elsewhere may require employees to be located on-site; it’s yet another layer to consider.
Work to design your virtual DEI program to bring in issues and factors that address all of your company’s unique international factors, not just the ones in a headquarters country or your largest base of operations. A resource like GlobeSmart (offering profiles of different countries and cultures) can be especially helpful in this case. One more note: maintaining a global focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is the subject of Aperian Global founder Ernie Gundling’s newest book, Inclusive Leadership, Global Impact.
Virtual Communication Challenges
For all of the advantages the hybrid or remote working environment offers (convenience, quick access, etc.), the lack of a physical, one-on-one experience can take away some of the effectiveness of traditional diversity, equity, and inclusion practices. It’s important to work to bridge those gaps. Make sure you continue to use project management or performance tools to provide equal access and opportunities for all of your workers, so no one feels “out of the loop.” Try things like virtual coffee chats or scheduled check-ins to maintain open communication. Examine your organization’s policies on learning and development, so everyone has similar opportunities, and maintain a focus on health and well-being through work-life balance policies.
Finally, be sure to re-evaluate rewards and benefits systems for the complex hybrid or remote working environment and review your talent cycle to ensure equitable treatment of all employees.
Looking to build an inclusive business culture? Aperian Global’s Inclusive Behaviors Inventory (IBI) can help you get started.
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