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Until companies face the biases built into their environment and work to correct them, some employees will be excluded.
Currently, there’s a chance to reform the office and improve equity in the workplace. But first, decision-makers will have to solve the shortcomings of the past and create new policies and norms that are more inclusive, accessible, and human-centered.
Traditionally, what employees got from working in the office was a standard workplace experience with a standard set of workplace conditions.
Sounds dull, but harmless, right? But actually, a one-size-fits-all approach is problematic for equity in the workplace. That’s because it can discriminate against employees who find it difficult to focus, participate, or contribute because of various individual differences.
In recent years workplace equity initiatives have gained momentum as organizations look for more ways to promote inclusion and fairness. This is partially due to the pandemic, which created a much broader understanding of what the workplace experience looks like.
Regardless of their background, identity, or work location, employees have realized the benefit of having greater flexibility over how and where they work.
An equitable workplace fosters a positive company culture where everyone feels welcome and valued.
If certain groups of employees aren’t equally represented or supported, people are excluded from fully contributing, participating, and interacting.
Every employee has a stake in making the organization more successful. Equity makes sure everyone has the power to do so.
The idea that the workday should be flexible and personalized represents a major shift in modern-day values and priorities. It reinforces the need for more inclusive approaches to managing the workplace and takes significant steps toward engaging diversity in all its forms.
Equity in the workplace often gets confused with equality — but it’s worth noting that their meanings are slightly different. In a previous post, we focused on the distinction between equality and equity in the workplace.
Here’s a quick recap:
Equality refers to equal protection against discrimination. These are typically enforced by countries and other governing authorities. American laws, for instance, guard against discrimination based on individual characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, or identity.
Equity levels the playing field by making sure the opportunities afforded to everyone are proportional and fair. It’s not just about giving each individual the ability to work there without being singled out, it’s about making sure they have the same access to resources as others.
There’s a cartoon that helps illustrate the difference between equality and equity in the workplace. The first image is labeled ‘Equality’ and depicts three children — lined up from tallest to shortest — standing on equal-sized boxes to look over a fence. The tallest easily clears the top of the fence, the medium-height child is just eye level with the top of the fence posts, and the shortest child isn’t able to see over the fence. In the second picture, labeled ‘Equity’, the shortest child is standing on two boxes, the medium-height child is standing on one, and the tall child is on the ground and all are now able to see over the fence.
In other words, having the same box didn’t contribute to successfully looking over the fence. Ensuring each child could see over the fence required a tailored approach.
It’s important to make sure that all of your employees feel valued and are on an equal playing field.
So, what can you do to improve workplace equity in your organization?
Keep in mind that discrimination and prejudice tend to be indirect, implicit, and unconscious. Consider how you can incorporate equity in the workplace into your hiring and promotion practices.
Equity in the workplace is about bringing out the best in everyone — and casting a wider net when it comes to bringing in talent to your team.
Are you attracting a diverse pool of talent?
There’s a reason top companies consider equity in their talent acquisition strategies. Different viewpoints, perspectives, and experiences are a benefit to the organization — and there’s a lot of value in recruiting talent from a wide range of backgrounds.
One way to counter bias during the screening and interviewing process is to assess candidates based on aptitude rather than applying your own judgment and relying on that alone. When conducting performance reviews and evaluations for raises and promotions, ask yourself who benefits from your current system.
Does everyone have equal career advancement opportunities? Focus on performance assessments and make sure you are giving everyone an equal chance to grow.
Each individual employee and potential new hire has a unique set of needs, preferences, and circumstances that impact their experience in the workplace. So why shouldn’t they be able to tailor their workday to align with those?
Self-service technology is one way to put employees in control of their interactions at work. Make sure your technology is accessible and designed to be intuitive, user-friendly, and add value to end-users.
Consider the process of booking a desk for the day. If you’re evaluating a desk booking system, focus on the experience of your employees.
Does the system let them find the best seat for their needs? Can they filter by location, amenities, and other important attributes? If they need a certain accommodation, can they submit a request during the day or even ahead of time? Do they have access to current information, such as availability and a detailed list of their options?
When you prioritize equity, your workplace is more inclusive and diverse. Employees from all backgrounds feel seen and heard, they experience equal opportunities to engage, contribute, and connect with their organization.
Fostering equity in the workplace is great for innovation, making it a real competitive edge for organizations looking to push beyond limitations and solve problems more creatively.
In her book Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design, Kat Holmes — currently the SVP Product Design and UX at Salesforce, formerly director of inclusive design at both Google and Microsoft — wrote, “The objects and people around us influence our ability to participate.”
“The objects and people around us influence our ability to participate.”
By rethinking the design of a building and the resources you provide — the layout of your office, the number of desks and the type of rooms, the mobility of workplace tools, and the convenience of a workflow — you’ll be able to improve how employees experience the workplace. You can support equity in the workplace by meeting people where they are and allowing them to calibrate their interactions with their environment and each other.
Are you allocating the right resources for promoting equality in the workplace?
It’s not enough to say you’re going to prioritize equity in the workplace, you need to dedicate enough resources to those efforts. Otherwise, your promises are nothing more than lip service — and employees will take notice. Deploy resources intelligently to improve equity and support your entire workforce more effectively.
As Harvard behavioral economist Iris Bohnet wrote in her book What Works: Gender Equality by Design, “There is no design-free world.”
As long as the workplace remains disconnected from the wide range of needs that exist within a diverse team, there are going to be obstacles standing in the way of collective success and equity in the workplace.
When the workplace is tailored not to the traditional structure of the office but to the individual, it becomes better suited for the diversity of the workforce.
The well-known Antoine de Saint-Exupéry quote puts it this way, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Now that you know what your targets are, you need to know how you’ll meet them and what metrics you’ll track to measure your performance.
This means it’s up to everyone with a role in designing the office space to embrace a more inclusive, equitable, accessible, and human-centered environment. Rather than sticking with the conventions of the office, you can redesign the environment to include and support everyone in the workplace.
Reinvigorate the employee experience and build a more inclusive and accessible workplace for all of your employees. Get tips in this guide.
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