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Genuine flexible work is the key to equity and inclusion. 


Genuine flexible work is the key to equity and inclusion.  Genuine flexible work is the key to equity and inclusion. 

Key Takeaways

  • Enhance work-life balance for caregivers by closing the gender gap through flexible work arrangements, supporting professional growth and personal responsibilities.
  • Ensure equitable opportunities in remote work by adapting communication methods for neurodiversity, ensuring technology accessibility for all, and fostering a culture of understanding and flexibility over micromanagement.
  • Attract and retain diverse talent by fostering diversity and inclusion, making flexible work an integral part of your organizational culture to appeal to a broader range of employees.
  • Improve organizational effectiveness through DEI audits, promoting open communication, designing inclusive technology, utilizing effective project tracking tools, empowering employees with flexibility, building trust and autonomy, and strategically shifting tasks for equitable workload management.

Flexible work environments are breaking free from the traditional in-office 9-to-5, offering employees freedom and control over where and when they work. This can range from remote work from home or a co-working space to hybrid models with a mix of remote and hybrid work. Other examples include flexible hours, allowing workers to adjust their start and end times, and compressed work weeks, where employees condense their hours into fewer days. 

These models empower individuals to tailor their work, leading to increased productivity, reduced stress, and improved work-life balance. It's a win-win for both employees and businesses.

Notably, remote work flexibility, once considered a mere perk, has now become a useful tool to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). By embracing this shift and offering various work options, organizations can attract and retain the most competitive, diverse talent pool. This not only enriches the overall ideas, perspectives, and employee experiences within the organization but also paves the way for innovation and better business outcomes.

While flexible work offers many advantages when coupled with a DEI strategy, it must be done in a way that is equitable, inclusive, and still creates belonging.  

Flexible work supports caregivers and helps close the gender wage gap 

As a DEI leader and an advocate for workplace flexibility, I firmly believe that societal norms and gender expectations have disproportionately placed the burden of caregiving on women. Women often experience a career slowdown or pay gap after having children—due to societal expectations of primary childcare responsibility and limited support for working mothers.  

This has often perpetuated unconscious bias toward women and caregivers and created a significant gender gap in terms of flexibility, work-life balance, and, ultimately, pay. However, we can help bridge this gap by fostering a work culture that values all caregivers, irrespective of gender. Creating inclusive policies for marginalized groups benefits all groups. 

Flexible work options are not just a convenience but can also play a part in closing the gender gap, especially for caregivers who juggle multiple responsibilities. This flexibility allows for a more balanced approach to work and personal life, ensuring that employees, particularly women, aren't forced to choose between their careers and families. 

To combat negative bias and create more equitable workplaces, we must redefine success based on outcomes and productivity rather than perception. We must also ensure that our policies on promotions and special projects reflect this shift in thinking. Furthermore, companies should empower their employees with flexibility, focusing on impact and productivity through autonomy.

Creating a more flexible and merit-based employment system

But how do we define employee impact and productivity? A common pushback against DEI is the argument that merit should be the only determining factor. However, this stance fundamentally misunderstands DEI. Merit and DEI are not mutually exclusive. 

Throughout a person's career, who hasn't witnessed less qualified individuals getting promoted because they simply “appeared” to be getting the job done or “appeared” to be the most qualified? If we're genuinely prioritizing merit, then we shouldn't be focusing on things like who arrives first or leaves last at the office. Such metrics have nothing to do with merit; they merely track attendance, not impact or productivity.

A truly merit-based approach would involve clarity about job roles and performance measurement. This is where equity comes into play, as it ensures everyone is assessed based on their specific job role. So, when someone brings up merit as a counterpoint to DEI, I feel compelled to challenge that viewpoint. For centuries, we've systematically overlooked true merit. If we genuinely want to prioritize merit, let's unpack what that means and recognize how DEI can help us create a more merit-based system.

Employee retention and flexibility

Research also indicates that underrepresented groups, often including people of color, women, and professionals with disabilities, are more likely to leave their jobs without flexible work options. This can lead to an undoing of the DEI work that helps to solve these exact attrition issues.

Flexible work arrangements, such as remote and hybrid work models, can significantly contribute to an employee's work-life balance, as well as the value they perceive from their employer. Interestingly, some studies suggest that many employees view the ability to work remotely as equivalent to a substantial pay increase—as much as 8% of their salary. This perception reflects the value employees place on flexibility, factoring in numerous things like the savings on commuting costs. 

Moreover, the lack of flexible work options can negatively impact an organization's employer branding. If a company gains a reputation for inflexibility, it may struggle to attract competitive talent and become less competitive in the market. In contrast, companies offering flexible work options may be seen as more inclusive employers, attracting a wider, stronger talent pool. This can play a crucial part in business outcomes and enhancing an organization's brand as an employer of choice. 

In a remote environment, challenges remain to ensure equitable opportunities

While remote work offers numerous benefits, it also presents unique challenges in ensuring equitable opportunities for all employees. Here are some specific considerations:

Communication styles and neurodiversity

Remote work often relies heavily on written or video communication, which can pose challenges. For example, misinterpretations and misunderstandings can occur more frequently in written communication, where tone and intent can be misread. This could potentially create biases or misunderstandings. Also, video meetings and technology mishaps can interrupt physical cues and body language crucial to clear communication. It is important to be mindful of these potential issues and offer various modes of communication to cater to different communication styles.

Technology accessibility

Not everyone has equal access to reliable internet, making remote work more difficult for some. For example, power outages and technical difficulties can disrupt the workday and create stress. Employers should provide resources and support to ensure all employees have the necessary tools to work effectively. This could include providing additional monitors, Wi-Fi amplification devices, or other technology aids.

Supporting employees 

Beyond just providing the necessary tools for work, employers need to consider how they can support employees in their remote work environment. This can involve understanding individual needs, offering flexible meetings where possible, and fostering a culture of support, not micro-management.

Strategies to create work flexibility

Making distributed work more equitable and inclusive is a multi-faceted task. Here are some examples that can help:

  • Data Analysis: Conduct DEI audits using employee engagement surveys and representation data to understand the trends in your organization. Look at attrition rates and identify who is being impacted by existing policies and practices. Exit interviews can also provide valuable insights into specific group experiences and areas of improvement.
  • Open Communication: Encourage feedback from all employees. This not only improves engagement but also helps in identifying gaps in your current systems.
  • Technology Accessibility: Focus on inclusive design. When you enhance accessibility for those who need accommodations, it benefits everyone. The goal should be to make technology as accessible as possible for all employees.
  • Project Tracking Tools: Use work management tools to track performance and manage tasks. This can be particularly useful in a remote work setup where traditional methods of supervision may not apply. It allows for self-management, tracking progress, and maintaining timelines even when working with multiple people.
  • Empowerment: Allow employees to estimate the time it takes for them to complete a task and update it as necessary. This autonomy supports accountability and helps keep projects on track, especially when there are multiple checkpoints with other team members.
  • Flexibility: Use capacity boards or reports within project tracking tools to identify who has time to flex and who doesn't. This can make task allocation more fair and realistic.
  • Trust and Autonomy: Build trust with your employees and provide them with the autonomy to manage their tasks. This doesn't mean they're left in the dark; rather, there's visibility and accountability without the feeling of being micromanaged.
  • Task Shifting: Finally, having a clear view of everyone's workload allows for the shifting of tasks between team members if needed, ensuring projects continue to move forward efficiently and equitably.

As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, embracing flexibility is key to staying competitive. However, it's important to remember that achieving DEI in the workplace requires a holistic approach beyond hiring. It asks for a culture with coordinating policies that affect all aspects of the employee experience, including hiring, career advancement, and even termination talks. This way, we can create a thriving, engaged environment that truly resonates with today's workforce.

Remember, the goal is to create an environment where everyone feels included and valued. This requires ongoing effort, open communication, and a willingness to adapt as needed.

Image of Den ​​Mondejar
Den ​​Mondejar

Den ​​Mondejar is a marketing professional and change leader passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).  For over 15 years, he has worked on developing​ ​teams, improving experiences, and increasing employer brand value.  At Aquent, he leads our Diversity+ recruiting solution, helping small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and Fortune 100 companies achieve their workforce diversity goals in a meaningful way.  Den also sits on Aquent's Diversity Council, is the BIPOC Employee Resource Group Co-Chair, and has completed Cornell University's Diversity and Inclusion certification program.  


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