Creating a Diverse Workplace by Promoting Flexibility

Catherine Tansey
May 3, 2022
flexible workplace, flexibility, DEI, diversity equity and inclusion

We’ve long known that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace aren’t just “nice-to-haves,” but essential pillars of high-performing and competitive workplaces. 

Today, thanks to big shifts galvanized in part by the pandemic, we’re seeing the same is true of flexibility. 

For companies looking to support or expand their DEI efforts, getting more flexible is a smart place to start. Flexible workplaces make for a better employee experience for some cohorts and enable businesses to expand their hiring pool beyond those limited to the same geographical location. 

With more flexible hours or flexibility in terms of location, businesses can also better serve demographics of employees often overlooked in DEI conversations, like caregiving employees and those with disabilities. 

Here, we’ll look further at how flexibility can help support your company's DEI efforts. 

Related content: Should You Offer Flexible Work Schedules for Your Team?

How flexibility supports diverse and equitable workplaces

Black and Latinx workers cite that flexibility contributes to a better employee experience

A January 2022 pulse survey by the Future Forum, a research consortium by Slack, found that Black and Hispanic/Latinx knowledge workers’ employee experience benefited from a boost alongside the uptick in remote work. 

“Since May 2021, sense of belonging at work has increased 24 percent for Black respondents and 32 percent for Hispanic/Latinx respondents, compared with 5 percent for white respondents. 

"During this time, agreement with the statement ‘I am treated fairly at work’ has also grown significantly among Black knowledge workers (+21%) and Hispanic/ Latinx knowledge workers (+13%),” the study reported. 

Individuals with disabilities get necessary accommodations

Employees with disabilities have reported greater satisfaction with their professional arrangement since work from home (WFH) went mainstream, too. 

WFH gave individuals with disabilities some of the accommodation they’d long been requesting, often to no avail—namely, working from home in and of itself, as well as more flexible hours. 

Offering more location flexibility supports employees who may have physical disabilities or are experiencing temporary or chronic health problems. Working from home allows individuals to skip the stress and challenges of the commute, avoid extra attention from colleagues, set up their desks in a way that fits their specific needs, and organize the workday or take breaks as dictated by their disability.  

Caregivers won’t give up flexibility any time soon 

Whether you’re a parent, provide care for a special needs individual, or take care of an elder, being a full-time worker and caregiver is tough. 

While the pandemic raised the stakes for caregiver burnout, it also highlighted the need for greater flexibility for these employees. As schools, daycares, and special needs care centers remained closed for months on end, organizations turned to flexibility to enable their caregiving employees to work. 

Flexibility doesn’t make the physical, mental, or emotional challenges of caregiving any easier, but it does offer a buffer that enables  employees who are also caregivers to “do it all.” 

More than one flavor of flexibility 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to flexible workplaces. Flexibility of location, flexible working hours, flexible work schedules, or hybrid-working arrangements are some of the most popular choices companies opt for today. 

But one stands out to certain cohorts more than others—flexible location. The Future Forum found that people of color, women, and working mothers continue to value location flexibility above other forms of flexibility. 

While it stands out as the most important aspect of flexibility for many, less than half of employers offer it. Forty-two percent of survey respondents offer flexibility in location while half offer flexible working hours. 

Related content: How to Insulate Your Team Against Burnout When Returning to Office

Keep an eye out for DEI barriers created as a result of “flexibility”

Flexibility can support DEI, but organizations must keep a finger on the pulse of how well their policies are doing so. As you think about how flexibility can extend, expand, and bolster your DEI efforts, consider the following:

1. Be sure to blind resumes

Diverse hiring isn’t a DEI fix-all, but it is necessary in order to build diverse and equitable workplaces. 

One way for flexible workplaces to support diverse hiring is by blinding resumes. This process is easily automated by most applicant tracking systems (ATS) and removes details that could lead to bias early on in the hiring process, like information about gender, age, name, and university, for example. 

2. Be mindful of proximity bias

Proximity bias, the tendency to favor those in our vicinity, is the most significant consideration for flexible and hybrid workplaces

Like all biases, proximity bias can be hard to measure so companies must have systems and structure in place to prevent it from slipping into decision making. Since implicit biases sneak into thoughts and decision making without our knowledge, structure is the best way to eke out bias. 

Establishing a clear set of criteria to measure employees against—for promotions, raises, and stretch assignments, for example—helps ensure a more fair evaluation of employees.

3. Teach managers to model behavior

If you tout flexibility but managers and executives come into the office five days a week, employees (or recruits!) won’t see this as an authentic offering. 

Coach managers on taking advantage of flexible location or working hours. When leaders model behavior, employees are more likely to follow suit. 

Boast about your (flexibility) benefits

With a majority of workers say they won’t take a job that doesn’t allow them some degree of flexibility, it’s no surprise that companies are starting to advertise their flexible workplace during the hiring and recruiting process.

Communicating your employee benefits package encourages employees to take advantage of benefit offerings—be it your financial wellness benefit, retirement contributions, or the flexibility you offer as an organization. 

Pro tip: start early and communicate often. Candidates are evaluating the employer just as much as the employer is evaluating the candidate. Include a brief overview of the flexibility benefit your company offers in the job description, and coach recruiters on how to talk about the flexible working options at your company. 

Companies invest significant time and resources in benefits packages to support employee wellbeing and satisfaction. Sharing the available benefits to your team can boost employee engagement and encourage employees to take advantage of all your offerings. What’s more, your applicants will likely be sussing out your organization's commitment to flexibility from the start—to confirm that it’s an authentic offering that goes beyond lip service. 

Flexible workplaces have a lot to offer both employers and employees

While we often focus on the benefits of flexibility related to attracting and retaining workers in the new talent economy, DEI strategy and efficacy stand to gain a lot, too. 

Flexible working arrangements offer accommodations that help to re-balance opportunities for all employees. As companies begin to make flexibility a key player in the DEI strategy, use the tips outlined here to get started. 

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