How Flexible Working can Foster Diversity and Inclusion in Tech
Two years ago, the Covid-19 pandemic reached levels that forced governments worldwide to implement lockdowns, asking everyone to stay at home and work. It changed life as we knew it and made it necessary for us to restructure how we interact with work.
The pandemic saw a shift in work culture as more companies experimented with remote working and flexible working hours to retain talent. Implementing the Work From Home (WFH) model helped remove barriers related to socioeconomic status, race, gender, disabilities, and age, by letting people work from wherever they felt most comfortable so long as they got the job done.
People are much freer to pursue their passions, internships are easy to come by and workers can now develop their skills online and demonstrate that they can be as productive at home as they are in the office. It also allows businesses to gain access to new talent at any time. This means that they can be more productive than before because they are no longer limited by geography or experience.
As we increasingly become dependent on technology in almost every aspect of our lives, the gaps in human representation become more visible. Mary Pat Radabaugh, formerly working with the IBM National Support Center for Persons with Disabilities, as regards disparity against people in the workplace, says: “For most people, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.”
The tech sector is a lucrative sector with about 667,600 new jobs predicted to emerge by 2030, a 13 per cent growth from 2020 as predicted by the U.S Bureau of Labour and Statistics, the fastest by average than any other occupation. Yet there are twice as many unemployed people with disabilities as there are people without disabilities, and this shows that marginalized people have not been well represented in the tech industry, even though studies have shown that companies that hire persons with disabilities into their workforce are more financially successful than companies that don’t.
According to Rachel Thomas, director of the University of San Francisco’s Center for Applied Data Ethics and one of Uber’s early engineers, “The tech industry’s obsession with working ridiculously long hours is inaccessible to many disabled and ill people, for whom adequate rest is often not optional, or who may have regular doctor’s appointments, tests or physical therapy”. The inclusion of marginalized and disabled individuals adds new insight and perspective that boosts organisations’ innovation.
For instance, a popular Twitter video where black and white teenagers were trying out a light-sensor faucet that turns on when a hand is placed under the tap. Whenever a white person places their hand under it, it runs but when a black person places theirs, it stops running. A more diverse team of engineers would have discovered this problem and worked on fixing it.
WFH models and remote-working systems help promote inclusion and diversification in the tech industry. The stress of commuting to and fro from work for working mothers, and people living with disabilities would eventually start to take its toll, resulting in less efficiency from said individual and an overall reduction in the organisation’s productivity.
Remote-working and flexible working structures also help individuals with any form of physical disability/impairment. No need for them to start learning how to navigate new environments, getting used to routes, paths etc. Working from the comfort of their spaces reduces the inconvenience of familiarizing themselves with new spaces.
For people dealing with mental health issues like social anxiety, working from home could keep them grounded, helping them cope in a more familiar environment.
The need for employers to evaluate and improve their organizational diversity goals is stronger than ever as more and more organizations should support diversity and inclusion in their hiring process.