Does a Hybrid Working Environment Make Diversity Progress More Challenging?

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The rise of the hybrid workplace will impact diversity progress. Whether the results are positive or negative for your business will depend on your organizational culture, your willingness to monitor progress and whether you take swift action when necessary.

Diversity in the workplace has always been an important issue, whether employers have realized and embraced it or not. Fortunately, over the past few years, we've seen increased attention on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as well as ongoing conversations about how employers can support equal access and opportunities for people of all backgrounds.

Business leaders, especially those in HR roles, are now swimming in a sea of best practices for improving diversity — but there is no singular, correct way to approach this matter. The rise of the hybrid working environment is also adding new layers of complication to discussions about diversity progress.

Do the new workplace dynamics help or hurt diversity initiatives in the workplace? There is no hard and fast answer.

Like many aspects of DEI in the workplace, it's complicated, and outcomes will depend on a wide range of variables, including organizational culture, involvement of leadership, employee engagement and other intangible factors that are difficult to identify and even more challenging to measure.

Considering the potential consequences

It's crucial for employers to understand how a hybrid working environment could impact their diversity progress. On one hand, a hybrid work arrangement might make it easier for women and other caregivers to balance their professional and personal responsibilities, which could improve access to job opportunities and career advancement. Similarly, hybrid work may also improve employment for individuals with physical or mental disabilities.

On the other hand, remote work can reduce opportunities for informal training (such as job shadowing) and make performance assessments more challenging. Additionally, having a virtual workforce could make it more difficult for remote employees to integrate with the organizational culture.

Diversity in the workplace is a process, not a destination

Employers need to understand where their organization is in its journey toward a more diverse workforce, and continually evaluate results to measure progress and identify new opportunities for improvement. This means looking beyond the numbers and getting familiar with the actual experiences of employees. While you can conduct employee feedback surveys to ask about these experiences, it's often more effective to learn the real story by talking with employees one-on-one regularly.

It's especially important to monitor the relationship between the hybrid working environment and the progress of diversity initiatives, as the new arrangements are rapidly changing the dynamics at work and impacting organizational culture and individual experiences in ways that aren't yet fully understood.

Identifying problems as early as possible

Despite all the challenges and unknowns that come with the new normal of the hybrid working environment, there are a lot of ways for employers to mitigate potential problems. Largely, the solutions start with early detection.

Closely monitoring the progress of diversity efforts can help identify changes — for better or worse — occurring within the organization. Examining these trends can present opportunities for employers to double-down on practices with positive results and remediate small problems before they grow.

While it's essential to understand the individual experiences of employees, collecting and analyzing diversity data is also necessary. The more details you can get, the better informed you'll be. The diversity, equity and inclusion dashboard in ADP's DataCloud helps employers dive deep into diversity data broken down by organization, department and job level. You can also compare your metrics to other organizations and gain insight into where you should make investments to remain competitive.

"The best place to start with all diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives is with understanding your workforce demographics so you can assess and prioritize what to do and where to focus. General organizational census data is only the start," says Jack Berkowitz, SVP Product Development at ADP DataCloud.

Taking swift action

The best thing employers can do to protect diversity progress from the pitfalls of hybrid work is to take quick, meaningful action when problems are identified. This should include reprimanding employees who violate conduct rules as well as establishing employee resource groups focused on diversity issues.

By definition, an inclusive workplace is one where all employees feel that they belong and that they're valued for who they are and what they bring to the organization. Employees need to see and hear that leaders at every level of their organization are committed to doing the right thing.

Understanding it's a work in progress

Workplace dynamics are changing rapidly, thanks to the rise of the hybrid work environment, advances in technology and cultural developments reflected in the priorities of employees. Employers are tasked with staying on the leading edge of these changes and remaining vigilant about their impact on organizational culture, diversity progress and the employee experience.

It's a tough job, but employers that work now to assess where their organization stands will have a better chance of monitoring progress effectively, addressing problems early and protecting their overall progress toward a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

See how easy it can be to view your workforce data and get DEI insights into your organization with ADP DataCloud people analytics. For tips and tools to help foster diversity, equity and inclusion in your workplace, visit our DE&I content hub.