Posted about 2 months ago by Stephen Frost

Remote Working: The Conversation on Cultural Inclusion

Stephen Frost hosting diversity discussion

When I spoke at the Career Moves breakfast on 5 March, I didn’t know that was the last public talk I’d be giving for a while. In spite of the impending crisis, there was still a great turnout and a great discussion.

Now we must continue that discussion online.

When things get serious, the importance organisations really place on diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives becomes clear. At first, the sad truth appears that much D&I work is deprioritised, postponed or cancelled.

However, properly framed, D&I has a massive contribution to make, now more than ever. We know from previous crises that it’s often minority groups that are hit hardest. With conscious diversity and inclusion leadership, we can ensure that in this crisis it’s minority groups and the most vulnerable that are placed front and centre of our strategy.

That’s good for them, good for all of us and good for business.

Many D&I initiatives won’t survive the next three months. In some cases, this was predictable. Too many are still undertaken to meet legislative requirements, but when gender pay gap reporting requirements were removed it showed where government’s priorities lie. Many more initiatives were driven by a desire for PR and recognition. However, every corporate email list you’ve ever subscribed to is now sending you messages of “support”, drowning out any D&I-specific PR.

Good D&I work deserves to survive and thrive. Here’s how you can ensure it does:

1.   Link to overall strategy

Many D&I professionals have been advocating remote and flexible working for years. Suddenly, we are all remote workers. BNP Paribas has moved their entire trading floor to a home working solution. Before, this was unthinkable and met stiff resistance. Now, it is a requirement.

How can colleagues be made aware this is a D&I initiative? Suddenly men are remote workers too when previously it was disproportionately women and they were often penalised for it.

What good can now come from this situation and what other possibilities might it open up?

Net A Porter is repurposing its vans to deliver care for elderly people. Deliveroo has an updated app to allow for non-contact deliveries. All of these adaptations build on D&I work, such as Uber introducing Uber Assist for disability-aware drivers and AirBnB allowing choice over accessible accommodation. All these D&I adaptations have helped grow the business. D&I thrives when it is framed as a strategy, not cost.

2.   Offer the evidence base

We know that in many businesses minorities are often the last to be hired and the first to be let go. In addition to bias and other factors, this is often due to networks and loyalties. To avoid this ‘last in, first out’ situation, apply the considerable diversity recruitment expertise that has been gathered in recent years to how redundancies are handled also.

For example, KPMG developed a simple proportionality tool – that promotions should be in proportion to the talent available. Similarly, the diversity of any redundancies or furloughed workers should be studied carefully. Only through conscious decision making will the equality and diversity impacts be properly considered. 

We know that health outcomes are more equitable, and the NHS can save money, when diversity is properly considered in up-front clinical trials and testing. Now organisations such as Sanger are working on sequencing Covid-19, contributing to a cure, and scientists are collaborating as never before to try and build a vaccine. We know that diverse teams, inclusively led, offer superior results.

3.   Impact decision-making

Morrisons and other supermarkets have clearly considered vulnerable groups in their adaptation of opening hours. Before this crisis, many reserved certain times of the week for customers with specific needs. Saturday mornings had dimmer lights, a silent tannoy, and no beeps at checkout; examples of businesses adapting to autistic consumers, rather than the other way round. Now this has been taken further with the first hour of every day reserved for elderly and vulnerable customers.

Even the Bank of England, with its core role to play in this crisis, needs D&I to ensure robust decision-making. In the past year they introduced a policy called “Author in the room” allowing any one at any level to be included in top-level meetings to contribute their expertise, regardless of hierarchy or network. Crises can be used to fast forward D&I, if we consciously choose to do so.

To survive, D&I needs to be linked to the overall strategy of the organisation. It needs to be evidence based. And it needs to positively impact decision-making. If CEOs can appreciate the contribution it makes in a crisis, there is a better chance of appreciating the contribution inclusion can make when this is over.

Now we’ll be talking online, please stay in touch, and we will do everything we can to support you.