As the pandemic recedes in the U.S. and many businesses move from a fully remote workforce to having staff return to the office at least part time, companies such as Cox Enterprises are focused on promoting their diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I ) goals amid the shifting workplace landscape.

For Cox, the key to success in that effort is clear communication and collaboration.

Cox Enterprises' headquarters in Atlanta

Cox Enterprises’ headquarters in Atlanta (company photo)

“Over the last year we looked at and put a lot of effort into how we listen to our employees,” said Jami de Lou, director of inclusion and diversity at Cox, an Atlanta-based conglomerate of communications, automotive, media and other businesses.

The group conducted surveys and quick “pulse checks” about what employees were experiencing during the pandemic, as well as longer listening sessions on such topics as the experiences of African Americans following George Floyd’s death and, later in the year, the violence against the Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

While 60 percent of its employees were frontline workers, who needed to work on premises throughout the pandemic, the remaining Cox staff worked remotely. In September, many of the remote workers will start returning to the office at least partially

For Cox, that means that focusing on its ambitious DE&I goals will have to take place in this hybrid-work environment, with some workers in the office and some working remotely. Cox’s main DE&I initiatives aim to increase executive representation by people of color to 50 percent over the next five years and expand inclusion through education and training.

In the conversation below, de Lou discusses how the company kept its diversity program moving forward in the shift to a hybrid workforce, and offered tips for the new world of work following the pandemic. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Remote Report: Why is it so important to do this work around inclusion, equity and diversity?

De Lou: I often say my work is helping people see through the thousands of lenses possible to bring a solution forward and making sure that the voices of those who may be historically or even currently have been underrepresented or marginalized [are brought] forward so that everyone feels and knows they have an equitable voice here. That’s something that I’ve seen reflected in the Cox community.

When we think about communities and when [pursuing more] diversity and increased representation, we have people of color, women, veterans, people with disability, the LGBTQ community and more. It’s also perspective and backgrounds and the range of human differences, [including different generations and neurodiversity].

If you’re not ensuring that that inclusive culture exists, where the diversity inside of it can thrive, you can recruit people and you won’t retain them. I think the majority of companies today are starting to understand that and how important it is to really drive and build an inclusive culture that’s truly representative, [where] people can really be authentic and who they are at work.

RR: How are you addressing these challenges with a hybrid workforce?

De Lou: Communication, clarity and community really matter. Getting clarity as a team and how do you work effectively, and how do you set up norms that ensure equity across those who are physically in person and those who aren’t. There are some really easy ways to get at that [such as] having team meetings to talk about that upfront and come up with some norms.

The other thing I’ve seen through research is really just supporting how important it is to think, hybrid first. [That creates] sort of the lens through which you look at things. You know there’s some problem solving to do and [this perspective creates] an openness to do that.

RR: What kind of toolkits and support systems are you providing?

De Lou: Short resource guides, Q&As and best practices pulling together resources of how teams work together. If we have a new technology we’re rolling out, making sure people know how to use it effectively and how they can collaborate on that tool.

RR: What final tips would you offer for improving a DE&I program for a remote/hybrid workforce?

De Lou: We recognize that the stress that was happening for employees [during the pandemic] was high and so [DE&I] partnered with our well-being team, [which] helps ensure we have access to mental-health resources, apps, exercise and [other] things that we know are good for ourselves. We brought a mental-health professional in to do wellness [sessions], to really give tips and strategies … to support [employees] and their well-being. One of the best things she said was that it’s OK to not be OK today. That we’re all struggling and we’re all going through so much change.

When your teams and your functions are collaborating on a regular basis, it makes it so much easier to design solutions that are inclusive and equitable. So if you have a [DE&I] team, you should ensure that they’re regularly partnering with professionals across the business [to build] inclusive solutions as we return and deal with more hybrid-workforce solutions.

We’re all the collective sum of individual experiences and backgrounds and skills. All of these things lead to key drivers for innovation and continuous business growth and improved performance, but it’s a human-centric design solution within that business — and the humans have been through a lot in the last year.

When people know that they can reach their full potential — which means equity and inclusion and an ability to be effective across differences, [and] embrace the differences that are being brought to the table — [these] really are critical to building a workforce of the future.

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