Fundile Sangoni from The Bridge Group of Advocates shares practical suggestions for driving diversity and inclusion while working from home.
Many companies currently have their attention and resources devoted to ensuring the smooth running of their technical operations during this time. While understandable as we traverse uncharted waters, it is of equal importance for companies and institutions to ensure that the new normal and its remote workplace establish a playing field in which all people have equal prospects of thriving. Leaders need to use their agency to guard against hindering or undoing diversity and inclusion and creating additional vulnerable groups in the workplace.
Norton Rose Fulbright head of diversity and inclusion Sacha de Klerk presented very useful and practical suggestions about this regard in her article, Virtual Working: ultimate leveller for diversity or amplifier of exclusion. Here are five tips from the international diversity and inclusion leader:
- Be conscious of the composition of your teams. Actively reach out, engage meaningfully, and provide mentorship to people from the different categories - particularly those that are exposed in the current circumstances.
- Make a deliberate effort to work closely with the lesser known members of the team. Resist the desire to share new projects or matters with only familiar circles.
- Facilitate virtual meetings inclusively, in a way that acknowledges and gives all members of the team opportunities to make an input, and not only the ones that de Klerk describes as “dominating the conversation”.
- Working from home presents a substantial disruption for many employees. Create opportunities for open and continuous dialogue with employees. Put measures in place to support those who are currently unable to work at the same pace as their colleagues to prevent the perception that these employees are not as agile, nor as hardworking as others, avoiding them being adversely affected when reviewed for bonuses and promotions.
- Concern yourselves more with the mental health of your employees during this time. Working remotely has blurred the distinction between home and work life. Many people find themselves connected consistently, such that they are checking emails on their phones even during dinner with their families. One of the large Sandton banks has taken a progressive step by providing its employees with one day off in the month as a “self-care day”.
Employees, and other service providers who are at risk of isolation, should also be encouraged to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in the developing new normal. They should explore ways to repurpose themselves to meet the needs of this unique environment. In the legal sphere, some professionals are studying and teaching others on the new virtual systems that the courts are now using to hear cases, while others are researching, writing and presenting webinars to continue sharing knowledge, introducing themselves virtually to their respective industries.
The so-called new normal is exactly that and is here to stay. To avoid being left behind, it needs to be embraced. There are untold benefits in the ability to work flexibly and remotely – these need to be pursued and unlocked, while taking care to avoid the inadvertent and undesirable consequences of professional isolation.