The biggest legacy of Covid-19 may be remote work. Prior to the pandemic, only 8% of remote-capable employees worked remotely. These employees were often viewed as less dedicated than their office-based colleagues, their contributions were generally overlooked by management, and their advancement opportunities were limited. The historic shift brought on by global lockdowns and stay-at-home orders changed the traditionally negative perception of remote work. And as workplaces permanently adopt remote and hybrid models, it is crucial that executives continue to deconstruct those same stigmas when it comes to equity of remote and on-site employees in the organization. Companies that ensure that all employees work on the same playing field, regardless of location, ethnicity, physical or mental ability, or gender or sexual orientation, will be well positioned to compete in the workplace of tomorrow.
Defining equity in the workplace
Equity in the workplace is about leveling the playing field for every employee and making sure that all feel empowered. The concept of equity refers to ensuring that all employees are treated equally and are given opportunities to learn and advance. It aims to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent the full participation of all groups. When equity is evident in a workplace, employees expect to have the same obligations, consequences, and rewards as their colleagues regardless of background, education, etc, based on how they perform at work. A core characteristic of equitable practices in the workplace is transparency so that all employees know that there is the same cause and effect for all. Both equity and equality are important to the workplace but the two are not interchangeable. Equity is when individuals are treated fairly based on each individual’s needs. In contrast, equality means providing the exact same treatment for all, while addressing the unique needs of individuals within an organization. Equality pays little attention to the fairness of desired outcomes and typically offers a blanket set of solutions to similar problems, regardless of nuances. Leading with equality rather than equity often fails to identify the specific needs of individuals and minority groups within an organization.
Not only does equity improve the quality of life and satisfaction of employees, but the business case for Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion (DEI) has been proven time and time again. Promoting equity in the workplace helps organizations retain and hire talent from diverse backgrounds, giving them a competitive edge. Moreover, equity allows a larger pool of employees to progress into leadership positions, ultimately resulting in greater cognitive diversity. Which in turn increases agility, resilience to market changes, and the ability to act on opportunities.
The pandemic along with the shift to remote and hybrid work models has brought the importance of equity to the forefront for many business leaders. In fact, studies show that only 18% of employees perceive their work environment as fair. Moreover, proximity bias, the unconscious tendency to give preferential treatment to those in our immediate vicinity, creates an unfair playing field that decreases equal representation in leadership, increases attrition, and harms performance if left unaddressed.
The following is an 11-step checklist for improving workplace equity:
- Focus on the individual – The needs of individual employees changed during the pandemic and in order to ensure equity, companies must identify and acknowledge the need of specific demographics, such as ethnicity, race, gender and gender identity, disabilities, and more. Many businesses focus solely on equality, which is driven by employment or equal opportunity laws, as well as the idea that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of their demographic. Equity is the next step that organizations can take to go beyond equality. Each employee may need different things to achieve success and in today’s world of work, this includes flexibility. Workplace equity is more personal and customized to address the needs of the individual employee. An organization that deliberately considers individual needs takes a personalized approach and ensures remote workers have the access and support needed to succeed. This will enable each employee to maximize their potential and bring their authentic self to work.
- Ensure a fair balance among team members – With some employees returning to the office and some working from home, issues with fairness will likely exacerbate. Make sure all team members receive comparable attention, feedback, encouragement, and learning opportunities from managers, mentors, and support staff. Also, check whether employees consistently ask for the same amount of support. Managers may unconsciously offer certain groups more help, while other employee groups may be more hesitant about asking for assistance and instructions.
- Eliminate bias – The core of any equity solution is to mitigate bias. To do that, the first step is to accept that bias exists. Complaints about favoritism aren’t uncommon when a group of people works together. When employees feel that others in the department receive preferential treatment, resentment grows. Technology may reproduce and even worsen inequalities in the workplace. For example, systems that are inherently biased are screening, hiring, and evaluation processes as they have the potential to introduce bias by race, gender, and age. In this case, using a prescreening tool that walks candidates through a number of questions via text message and ranks all candidates based on their fit for the job, helps avoid bias and provides better candidates faster.
- Be fair – Research shows that those who believe they work in a ‘high fairness environment’ perform 26% better and are 27% less likely to leave their companies. To advance toward a true meritocracy, it is critical to ensure a level playing field in advancement and opportunity. The practice of equity requires foresight and the intentional allocation of resources tailored to individuals’ needs in order to reach desired outcomes. This can be accomplished by identifying the needs and requirements of different demographic groups in the organization and offering targeted support to those demographic groups accordingly. It is critical to bridge any opportunity gaps that may exist between minority and majority groups at the company.
- Develop personal connections – Spend some time each week chatting with employees about non-work-related topics and identify things you have in common. While you may find it easier to strike up a conversation with some rather than others, failing to connect with all team members can create the perception of favoritism.
- Delegate effectively – Treating everyone equally in the workplace doesn’t mean treating everyone exactly the same. There are times when you need to select one employee over another. When that happens, explain why a particular employee was given a special opportunity or assigned the role of the team leader. Making your team aware that assignments are based on skill and experience will help them understand how you make decisions. Hold regular team meetings to guarantee everyone feels valued for their efforts.
- Make internal mobility accessible – Create transparency around the wage range for different positions, and provide a variety of avenues through which talent may access applications, including customized notifications. Not everyone has access to higher education and this shouldn’t bar them from opportunities for work if they have the skills necessary to do the job. Instead of focusing on degree requirements in your hiring process, emphasize skills and previous work experience.
- Provide inclusive incentives –Research shows that these benefits and initiatives can increase feelings of inclusion by up to 38%. Event-based incentives which center around alcohol or formal dress codes have the potential to alienate some employees. Get input from your people in order to identify any gaps in your benefits program. Financial, wellness, and recognition-based incentives are a better way to reward team members and avoid exclusion.
- Empower employees – Even if you have all the best resources in place, it’s up to your employees to take advantage of them. For you, this means making sure your employees know about the resources, know how to access them, and feel comfortable and safe doing so.
- Ensure Equitable Benefits – Going into 2022, women receive 82 cents for every $1 men earn. It’s not possible to truly even the playing field for employees when people are being paid drastically different wages for the same jobs. Consider taking steps to ensure equitable pay for all, conduct audits, and create pay levels for specific roles. Encourage transparent conversations around wages to ensure that everyone is being fairly compensated for the work that they do. If an employee feels that they are receiving fair payment for their efforts, they are more likely to stay motivated and find satisfaction in their position. Beyond wages, ensuring spousal health insurance is available to same-sex couples and non-traditional families is impactful as well.
- Measure and Track Progress – The need for organizations to truly understand whether individuals are treated fairly has never been greater. With platforms like Montara, leaders can effectively receive information on the most important aspects of people management such as diversity, equity, and inclusion. Using the power of AI and data that already exists in the organization, companies can now leverage advanced people insights solutions that analyze data and provide insights and recommendations, all in real-time.
Today’s employees do not want to be treated equally; they want to be treated fairly. Progressive organizations that are able to successfully model fair play reinforce employee engagement, reduce turnover and boost performance. Now more than ever, it is imperative that leaders adapt their processes to drive employee success in a post-pandemic world.
Montara enables organizations to gain a deeper understanding of workplace equity by uncovering any potential biases and blind spots in management. Discover how to ensure an equitable workplace using personalized actionable insights today.