In a sea of diversity and inclusion efforts – like anti-bias and anti-racism trainings, affinity groups and mentoring programs – broader policy changes are often overlooked.
That doesn’t mean that those efforts and initiatives aren’t useful and effective – because they often are! It’s essential to build practices into the workplace that enhance inclusion and belonging – and reduce bias.
However, most diverse groups are often marginalized as an extension of being “different” in a world – and workplace – that’s not designed for them. That makes it critical for leaders to bring the inclusion of current employees into scope as a priority while giving an equal amount of attention to people who don’t even make it through the door because of exclusionary practices and discrimination. Such as:
Working parents and caretakers who are not able to meet the demands of full-time employment.
People with disabilities who are excluded by a lack of accessible workplace accommodations.
Racial minorities or ethnic groups who are screened out during selection processes because of internal bias that deems them “not a culture fit.”
For every person who makes in through the door in spite of these obstacles, there is likely an equivalent peer who did not.
Redesigning the workplace with inclusion in mind means considering how to better serve the people who are already in our atmosphere and how to bring more previously marginalized people in.
Making the workplace more flexible is one of the most powerful ways to do this. Too often, we hear about working parents who weren’t given the ability to pick their kids up at 3pm, or people with disabilities or chronic illnesses that weren’t allowed to work remotely — and similar stories.
So can flexible work enhance diversity and inclusion efforts? Absolutely. Flexible work and personalized work arrangements create a massive opportunity for marginalized employees to re-enter the workplace – including those with chronic illness or disabilities, those who are caretakers, and other people who are forced outside of the workplace because the traditional arrangements can’t meet their needs.
By allowing for more workplace flexibility and encouraging employees to personalize their work arrangements, we can ensure that we’re meeting people where they are, and responding directly to their needs – and not what we think they need.