How to improve diversity and inclusion through flexible work models

Increased diversity and inclusion is proven to drive innovation and increase company value. Learn how flexible work models empowered by the right technology can better support diversity in the workplace.

ARTICLE | 5m read
May 11, 2021

The future will be defined by diversity. By 2043, the majority of Americans will be people of color. In the last 20 years, doctorates earned by individuals from underrepresented groups grew nine-fold. Half of all doctorates are held by women, which could explain why McKinsey estimates the US could see an additional $12 trillion in GDP if the gender gap is narrowed by 2025.

By leaning into these trends and increasing diversity and inclusion, your organization can lead your industry and outpace your competitors in innovation. However, embracing diversity and inclusion takes more than good intentions. In this article, we’ll explore the business value of diversity, how to create an effective inclusion strategy, and the critical role of flexible work models and technology in supporting diversity and inclusion efforts.

Why diversity and inclusion drive innovation and business value

Rather than merely a nice-to-have bullet on the company website, diversity and inclusion are powerful contributors to business value. 76 percent of senior executives believe a more diverse workforce improves an organization’s financial performance. By advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, organizations can also see better employee engagement and improved performance. And these improvements add up—the Sodexo Corporation saw an exponential return on investing in diversity and inclusion, with a $19 return for every $1 allocated to the company’s D&I mentoring program.

Beyond these bottom-line advantages, diverse companies can also leverage unique perspectives and insights that lead to greater innovation. This is especially crucial for organizations that want to create products and services for a global audience of diverse consumers. As Dean Stoecker, founder and executive chairman of Alteryx, said "Supporting our users and building great products for them demands diversity in the way we build those products. That means having a full spectrum of people on our teams, including in the C-suite and on the Board of Directors.”

How to design effective diversity and inclusion strategy

However, for your organization to see these benefits from diversity and inclusion, you must design an effective D&I strategy. This starts with understanding that increasing diversity is not the same as ensuring inclusion. Too many organizations prioritize increased hiring from a few target demographics without a plan to make these underrepresented employees feel a real sense of belonging at the company. Here are three best practices to create this sense of belonging in your increasingly diverse workplace:

  1. Make an effort to listen to employees—especially those from underrepresented groups.
    Listening goes beyond simply nudging managers to ask employee advice in one-on-ones. Investing in surveys and internal research can help you truly understand the unique perspectives of your diverse workforce, showing you clearer targets to strengthen organizational inclusion. Be sure to segment your research to better understand the distinct preferences of employees according to their generation/age, role type, seniority, geographic location, or other relevant factors.
  2. Enable greater equity through continued training and support programs.
    Diversity training is good for everyone, as it’s important to advocate for inclusion across your teams to promote flexible ways of working and combat bias. It’s also vital you have programs designed to fix the broken rungs on the corporate ladder by focusing on advancing diverse talent to leadership roles.
  3. Encourage diverse talent to apply their unique strengths and perspectives.
    Every employee wants to feel empowered and set up to succeed, but this is especially key for those from underrepresented demographics. Managers have an especially big role to play here in supporting diverse employees by giving them opportunities to lead and encouraging them to engage authentically in team collaboration.

The role of flexible work models and technology in supporting diversity

When creating strategy to increase diversity and inclusion, flexible work models can play a crucial role. Flexible and hybrid work gives employees more agency over where and how they get work done, which is vital as you include and empower workers from different demographics. Embracing remote work also helps prevent location bias in hiring, as talent acquisition is no longer limited by geographical boundaries.

Technology is also an important tool in supporting diversity and inclusion efforts. For example, you can better include employees with disabilities by adopting accessibility and usability technologies like dictation, text reader aids (such as color contrast and size enhancements), and closed captioning for video conferencing. Collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams also make it easier for distributed team members to equally contribute on projects, giving diverse employees more choice in how they prefer to work. Another way to cater technology to the unique preferences of diverse employees is to adopt microapps that use machine learning to adapt to each user’s work style. These tools learn from how employees use their digital workspace to serve up the right features and apps at the right time.


Adding flexible work and technology to your diversity and inclusion strategy

As your organization looks for ways to better support diversity and inclusion, the large toolbox of D&I strategy can include culture building, inclusion education, organizational accountability, diversity mentorship, and many other initiatives. By adopting flexible work models and adaptive technology, you can further support and empower every employee in your organization—regardless of their background—to make their own unique and irreplaceable contributions.

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