Two surprising revelations have come out of the Covid-19 pandemic: That the new work-from-home flexibility improves productivity and it also attracts a larger, more diverse talent pool unlimited by geography.
Couple that with studies, such as an early 2020 McKinsey & Company report, that show top-performing companies have a higher level of gender and ethnic/cultural diversity, and one conclusion becomes clear.
Diversity plus remote work is good for business.
That formula comes as no surprise to the Goodway Group, which began switching its focus from print to digital marketing more than a dozen years ago. To grow, it needed to expand into other markets. Instead of opening new offices, the company tried a novel approach.
“We realized in 2008 that to get the best talent and have better insights into different cultures … we really needed to look more broadly. So that’s when we started working remotely,” said Kandi Gongora, Goodway’s chief transformation and people officer, who works from her home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Today, the company has about 350 employees — 71 percent women and 11 percent from diverse or multicultural backgrounds — all working remotely. It’s also been listed as a best place to work by Ad Age, the Society for Human Resource Managers and Glassdoor.
For companies looking to hire new talent, remote work and diversity go hand in hand, say industry experts.
Expanding the candidate pool
JT Saunders, management consulting firm Korn Ferry’s chief diversity officer, says remote work lets diverse candidates stay in the communities where they have family and already feel comfortable.
“This helps employers because they can expand their search of available candidates beyond one geographic location. This will help bring more diverse candidates to the pool,” he said. “Employers who are creative about allowing more roles to be remote will have better luck attracting diverse talent.”
He also notes that families in some cultures may live in multi-generational settings.
“When everyone is home, workers have the ability to care not only for their children but aging parents,” said Saunders, who is based out of Korn Ferry’s Washington, D.C., office. “It actually makes them more productive and engaged because they are not worried that their loved ones might not be taken care of.”
In the years since it has gone completely virtual, Goodway’s remote employees also can participate in their children’s extracurricular activities and support their military spouses/partners wherever they are stationed.
The benefit for the company, Gongora said, is that Goodway got its wish of wanting “diverse thinking and different types of diverse talent.”
Diverse companies outperform industry peers
The McKinsey & Company report noted that in its 2019 research, companies in the top quartile for gender and ethnic diversity on their executive teams outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 25 and 36 percent, respectively.
With financial performance improvement being such a strong argument for hiring diverse leaders, organizations should be prepared to consider remote-work options for top leadership candidates, says T.R. Straub, a diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) practice co-lead at Russell Reynolds Associates, a global leadership advisory and search firm.
The last year of remote working has made many candidates more “comfortable with the flexibility that setup provides and their ability to be productive — and even high achieving — without being in the office,” he said.
As a result, their expectations are shifting.
When candidates are considering a job change, “asks related to remote/hybrid flexibility are common, and openness to relocating is decreasing,” Straub noted. “That said, many organizations’ policies and openness to have someone start remote or hybrid — or not relocate at all — has not yet caught up.”
Still, there’s been an “incredible uptick in demand” for diverse executive candidates, he said. “[These] professionals are in positions of negotiating strength; they often don’t have to consider moving or being full time in the office, and we’re seeing our clients pivot — and often accommodate — in real time,” he said.
The remote model going forward
Still, as companies increasingly adopt hybrid work models, allowing a mix of in-office and remote work, Goodway’s Gongora worries that fully remote candidates may become isolated.
“The remote [model] that has been used during the pandemic is probably not the remote that you want to create going forward. It’s going to be different and more thoughtful,” Gongora said.
“I worry because sometimes when you do hybrid, an unintended consequence could hurt your DE&I efforts,” she said.
For example, remote diverse hires may not be able to come into the office as frequently as people who live closer. They may worry — correctly — that they won’t make a strong impression on their co-workers and managers if they aren’t there in person often enough. That could result in making them feel disconnected, Gongora says
Instead, she suggests getting people of diverse backgrounds together to look at diversity data and job roles and play a “what if” game. The aim would be to see which roles would work as remote roles and which wouldn’t.
“And I would then go out and look at companies that are currently doing [a remote diversity program] well and benchmark and speak to them,” Gongora said. “You don’t have to go it alone or reinvent the wheel.”