Career progression & hybrid working: how to avoid a diversity crisis

23 Nov 20 | Blog

“How do I get a promotion?”

Ask any search engine, and you’ll see article after article talking about visibility – of your accomplishments, hard work, leadership ability. That’s all well and good, but what happens in a hybrid working environment? 

If you give people the choice of where they work, some will prefer remote working because it better suits their lifestyle, physical capabilities, or other needs. And that’s where you need to be careful about a diversity crisis emerging. 

Hybrid working: it’s likely to be the ‘new normal’

Whether it’s down to employee demand, leadership rethinking, or the draw of lower office rent, it seems inevitable that hybrid working is here to stay. Four out of five employers see it in their future – which is unsurprising, as there’s a considerable risk of mass resignations if remote working is taken off the table. 

Remote workers v. office workers: be aware of the divide

Proximity biasPresence disparity. Complicated terms for a simple truth: hybrid working risks dividing your workforce into mainly-office and mainly-home workers, in a way that could exacerbate existing inequalities.

Managers are already anticipating this: they expect disabled employees, those with caring responsibilities, older people, and women to work remotely more than others. It’s not hard to see why: the commute isn’t physically easy for some groups, and improving work-life balance is a big draw to those juggling school pick-ups. 

But that means the office itself becomes more homogenous than ever – and that’s where the accepted wisdom about how best to climb the ladder comes in.

Underrepresented groups & career progression

The positives of hybrid working:

  • Some people feel more comfortably contributing to meetings via video calls, so it’s surprisingly easier to be heard – good news for women, who reportedly get less air time in meetings (even when it’s perceived to be the opposite) 
  • While extroverts might find it easier to be seen as leadership material, introverts can thrive in remote settings – and if they’re judged on results, this could up their chances
  • Women take on a disproportionate amount of childcare and other caring responsibilities, to the extent that leaving the workforce is often the only option. Being able to stay in employment, thanks to flexible policies, could help change that

The negatives of hybrid working:

  • In and out-groups could emerge – as research suggests that working mothers, older employees, disabled people, and some minority groups are more likely to work remotely
  • Less access to networking opportunities, and access to industry events, could hamper career development of those less likely to be in the office often
  • Manager bias against remote workers could mean the underrepresented groups that work from home aren’t as likely to be seen as good candidates – one third see it as an excuse to do less work

HR professionals, managers, and people leaders: this is a problem for you too

The benefits of diverse workforces are well known, and the business case has been made again and again. In an already imbalanced workforce – with inequalities around age, race, gender, disability, and orientation – hybrid working could hurt as many as it helps. 

Not only is it bad for the books, it risks ruining your culture, attributing to attrition, and undoing years of progress in the diveristy and inclusion space. So now is the time to act.  

5 ways to build an inclusive hybrid organisation:

1. Measure, track, listen

Employee surveys will help you tackle problems as they arise, and find solutions that work. While feedback sessions and 1-2-1s are hard in a hybrid world, our employee surveys offer a fair way to make sure everyone is heard. 

2. Train your managers

Two-thirds of managers have had no training to manage remote teams, and hybrid employees are even trickier to handle. Avoiding unconscious biases, looking at performance quantitatively, and advocating for remote workers are all things you can be taught to do. 

3. Prepare a policy

Even pre-pandemic, many organisations had WFH policies – but when they’re unclear or customisable, resentment and anti-remote bias can creep in. If expectations are clear, and there’s set times to be in- and out-of-office, you can mitigate any sense of division…

4. Lead by example

Equality starts at home. Leaders have a responsibility to showcase best practice – from managers using remote-working days, and talking openly about the benefits, to encouraging the office-shy to come in when needed, by making it an inclusive space to work in. 

5. Consider individual needs

There’s a lot of small steps that can be taken: meeting times that consider school drop-offsassigning tasks that match your employees career goals – not who’s sitting closest – and a focus on empathy generally. Small things can have a big impact. 


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