Remote Work is a Game-Changer for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

By Rachel Puryear

Creating workplaces which are more diverse, more equitable, and more inclusive can be a complex and challenging undertaking for many organizations, even the ones who are truly sincere and serious about doing so. (Of course, that’s never an excuse for not making the needed effort.)

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many inequalities worsened overall – including parents and especially mothers struggling to balance work and family life with limited daycare options and remote schooling, and many service workers either losing their jobs or trying not to get sick while serving an often-uncooperative public.

Still, one factor has arisen out of the pandemic which has the potential to help level workplace playing fields for a lot of people – that factor is a significant increase in the availability and acceptance (even if begrudgingly by many managers) of remote-work positions.

Of course, not all positions can be done remotely, and not everyone wants to work from home. But for jobs that can be done from home – which we’re finally admitting exist – people for whom the traditional way of in-person-only work wasn’t working well, have a new world of possibilities.

Here are a few big reasons why increasing remote-work opportunities are a game-changer for diversity, equity, and inclusion in workplaces:

Diversity Equality Inclusion write on sticky notes on an office desk.

People With Disabilities, and Other Health-Related Needs

None of us like a long and draining commute. Getting up at o’dark 30, stopping and going in traffic with gazillions of other people. Or, maybe we’re taking public transit and cramming into buses and trains packed with people as cranky and tired as we are, are and at the mercy of things are running on time. Twice a day, every day.

Now, imagine doing the same thing; but instead, you use a wheelchair. Or maybe you have visual impairments. Or, for many possible reasons, you have far fewer metaphorical “spoons” every day (energy) than most people do. For many such conditions; forget about driving, and don’t assume your infrastructure or fellow commuters will be as kind or accommodating as they should be. Or, imagine you have serious anxiety with crowds and traffic, and each commute fills you with dread. And, these examples could go on.

If you are a person with a disability, or with other special medical and health needs, an already-unpleasant daily commute is made all the more overwhelming – if not impossible.

Then, there’s the actual workplace. Workspaces are not always accommodating. Nor are supervisors always understanding or compassionate towards workers needing accommodation – though laws require them to do so, employers do not always properly accommodate people with disabilities and special needs, and unlawful discrimination is more common than we think.

A home office, however, can be suited exactly for a disabled or special needs worker’s needs. No need to go through HR bureaucracy, worry about retaliation from a boss for asking, or having to explain anything to coworkers.

Therefore, remote work opportunities are a game-changer for people with disabilities, and other special health needs. For some, it can make the difference between being able to hold a job and earn a living, versus being unable to hold a job and having to rely on fixed-income disability benefits long-term.

Furthermore, for many people with disabilities and special health needs; the nature of remote work and virtual communication could make many kinds of disabilities less obvious. This factor helps protect privacy, as well as reducing anxiety about discrimination.

Underrepresented People

Did you know that not everyone is equally anxious to leave working from home behind and return to the office? And that doesn’t just mean ‘not every individual’ – but rather, that there are substantial disparities in workers’ desire to remain working remotely versus go back to in-person work; based upon gender, race, LGBTQ+ identity, and more (also true for people with disabilities, as discussed in the previous section).

Gender and Desire to Work Remotely:

According to a recent study from FlexJobs; although the majority of men and women want to continue working remotely, women were even more likely than men to want to do so. Not only that, but women placed even more importance on remote work than men did, as they were more likely to cite remote work options as a top priority they’re looking for in a job, rather than just a nice-to-have.

Furthermore, women were more likely than men to not only want either hybrid or remote-only work, but to specifically want remote-only work over either hybrid or in-person-only work; whereas men tended to prefer either remote-only or hybrid work over in-person-only work. So while neither favored in-person-only overall; men were more likely to instead prefer hybrid work, and women to prefer remote-only work.

Remote work is especially appealing and beneficial for people who care for young children, and other family members. As women still overall perform the majority of child care, as well as care of elderly family members, remote work therefore especially offers women opportunities that can fit into their lives and families’ needs.

Women and men also shared a lot of reasons why they liked working remotely, although differed somewhat in how they ranked each advantage of remote work. Interestingly, though, the ones they agreed on similarly were that remote work offered more time to spend with families and children, and that remote work helped cut down on excessive meetings.

Race and Desire to Work Remotely:

Gender isn’t the only factor affecting people’s desire to work remotely – race also accounted for important differences in views on working from home.

An overwhelming majority of black knowledge workers – 97% – want to keep remote and hybrid work, according to a recent study from Slack. Even most white knowledge workers in the study said the same thing – nearly 80%.

But for workers of color, working in-person in an office comes with extra stressors – the top-cited being needing to code-switch (constant vigilance about fitting into a workplace where they’re a small minority), micro-aggressions, and more difficulty with work-life balance (remember also that black workers might tend to live farther from job centers than white workers).

African-American woman working on a laptop computer in her home.

LGBTQ+ Identity:

Many large cities have neighborhoods where LGBTQ+ people feel welcomed, and maybe are in the majority. People who live in these neighborhoods tend to come from lots of different places, and many left areas where they did not feel accepted. For them; their neighborhood is not just home, it’s where they fit in.

What if someone in this situation gets a job offer, but it requires them to work in person in an area where they and their family would be away from their accepting environment? This person is at a disadvantage compared to someone who is straight and cisgender – but this inequity could be remedied if the job is instead made remote.

For transgender and non-binary people, working remotely also eliminates bathroom dilemmas.

People From Rural Areas

With the exception of certain industries like farming, rural areas tend to have a lot fewer jobs available than urban areas. That’s a lot of what people like about living out in the countryside – more fresh air and trees, less crowds and cars. However, this can leave knowledge workers who reside in rural towns with few local job prospects. The availability of remote work helps them have more selection of jobs, without having to relocate to a city center.

Of course, there are some people who sneer, and ask why a person so situated cannot simply relocate instead. But people often live where they are for good reasons, just a few of which include: living near family and friends and support networks (especially in an age where loneliness is a serious problem), living where their kids are established in schools, living where their spouse/parter already has a job (maybe theirs can’t be done remotely), living where they have good health care (especially critical for someone with ongoing health issues), living near elderly and vulnerable family members, living near kids (for divorced parents who share custody), some people are not well suited for urban life because of their dispositions, and so forth.

Home in the countryside, with fields and mountains surrounding it. By Nathan Anderson.

Parents With Children, and Other Caregivers

As touched upon in some of the previous sections, caregivers of children and adults can benefit a great deal from remote work opportunities. For mothers, working from home can give them flexibility and saved time and resources that they desperately need – including reducing the need for daycare. For fathers, working from home can enable them to spend more time with their children than previous generations of fathers have been able to, and those who can should take advantage of such (and it’s only fair to share an equal amount of the duties, as well).

Father working from home using cell phone and laptop, while holding his young daughter.

Accordingly, increasing remote work options is a game-changer for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Not everyone wants to work remotely, but that’s okay, as there are some jobs which can only be done in person.

For the many workers who benefit tremendously from remote work, however, improving the availability of such is a critical factor in more equitable opportunities. Therefore, for jobs that can be done remotely; offering that option not only helps companies attract and keep better talent, but it’s the just and ethical thing to do.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to workspaces which are more diverse, equitable, and inclusive; as well as broader remote work opportunities for people who need or want them.

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