A new lease for D&I in Remote Work

The widespread prevalence of remote work today has reignited interest in diversity and inclusion (D&I) at the workplace, writes Niraj Parihar of Capgemini


The COVID pandemic severely impacted employees from minority groups – women, LGBT+, people with disabilities (PWD), etc. McKinsey Global Institute says that compared to men, female job losses in COVID are about 1.8 times higher globally. Engendered, an NGO helping women in their mid-careers, says four of every 10 working women in India lost jobs post lockdown.

LGBT+ groups, who experience distinct disparities in health, income, employment, and access to housing or medical care, faced greater vulnerability during COVID-19. Among PWD, only one in 10 people had access to assistive technology during the lockdown. COVID greatly affected their prospects too, per World Health Organisation.

The reason is clear. Unlike previous recessions, the pandemic shut down sectors that employed a high proportion of women, LGBT+ and PWD groups, such as retail, hospitality, arts and recreation, beauty care services, etc. While many organisations resorted to retrenchment, several others postponed their hiring plans. But the emergence of remote work may be the bend in the corner.

Turning adversity into opportunity

When the pandemic struck and operations shifted from home, we found work moved smoothly and efficiently. The big question that emerged was: Will WFH enable more equitable employment of diverse candidates – of people with disabilities, LGBT+ groups, as well as women and new parents?

As remote work presented opportunities to hitherto underrepresented groups, it allowed corporates to reach out to communities who are in greater need of WFH opportunity. Let’s look at the benefits across each of these groups:

PWD candidates: Many PWD candidates struggle with commuting and navigating in an office setting. Breaking of geographical barriers is removing location bias and relocation costs. Also, better access to support is making work easier for PWD groups, especially with their home environment adapted to their needs.

LGBT+ employees: WFH fostered a greater sense of psychological safety for LGBT+ employees. In an office environment, biases come to the fore much stronger, while in a remote setting, what matters is productivity and effectiveness.

Women: Women have been primary caregivers for families. With age, more women may struggle with traditional forms of work-life balance. Working from home, combined with flexible work schedules, enables such caregivers to balance work and home better. 

New parents, especially single parents, often struggle to return to work post-childbirth. Often, the only choice they have is to work reduced hours, which in turn affects their income. WFH solves many of these problems for them.

In these unprecedented times, the opportunity to increase diversity representation in our workforce may well impact corporate work culture for good.

Better access to talent: Remote work means employers can recruit the best talent regardless of employees’ location. The current market situation has accelerated the need for agile organizational structures fuelled by agile talent. 

Creation of a liberal environment: Diverse companies outperform others. Taking advantage of remote working to sustain diversity initiatives improves company culture, employee engagement and respect from the communities you serve.

Enabling a rational ecosystem: Companies can take action to encourage gender diversity not just within organizations but also more broadly across their supply chains and distribution channels such as partners and clients.

Promoting cognitive diversity: Diversity is fundamental to innovation and creativity. Cognitive diversity – the way people think and carry their varied experiences – offers new work perspectives that help organizations navigate this unprecedented situation.  

Push for platform technologies: The rise in gig work has led to a rise in platform technologies. These digital platforms, while allowing users to connect with and access a wide range of jobs with varying degrees of specialization, also enable incremental improvements in work conditions. Such work flexibility often supports minority groups working remotely.

It’s a two-way street, but a fair one!

While the overall D&I scenario appears promising, a word of caution is in order. There is a downside to WFH that organisations may have to factor in. For example, not all PWDs may be able to cope with remote work, especially in absence of work facilities or assistive technology at home that an office environment provides.

In the case of women, since workload at home dramatically increased because the entire family is at home at all times, it limited their bandwidth for office work. And among LGBT+, the absence of contact with like-minded people and a natural support system led to a rise in cases of depression. In such scenarios, there is always the danger of inherent biases being accentuated when working remotely.

But clearly, the merits of inclusion outnumber the disadvantages. While the pandemic and resultant business slowdown make the job market vulnerable, especially placing diverse talent more at risk, it is critical that in today’s digital age, no one is left behind.

The numbers say it all. India’s GDP in 2030 could be $1 trillion lower if women’s employment fell behind men’s in each sector, per McKinsey. But the improvement in gender parity by 2030 in India would lead to a 14% increase against a gender-regressive scenario. This demonstrates the need for a strong gender focus in hiring diverse groups and enabling their economic empowerment.

Tough times don’t always need tough decisions, but fair ones. This is one such time!

The article is authored by Niraj Parihar, Executive Vice President, Leader - Insights and Data Global Business Line – India, Capgemini.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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