Remote work is changing management dynamics and opening up leadership opportunities for women and people of color.
With the massive and abrupt shift to remote work, the adoption of virtual work platforms, collaborative work styles, and the new workflows supported by them, oppressive and unjust leadership strategies have been exposed. The outdated and abusive good ol’ boy culture, which has existed by capitalizing on preferred familiarity, status quo, protectionism, and the hoarding of credit, is being threatened by the more collaborative, democratized team dynamics emerging, in part, from the remote work environment.
In the “old normal,” the physical work environment, specifically the conference room, was the preferred way to work together. However, these spaces too often failed to inspire collaboration. With dominant voices from men who overshare and the inability for more than one person to lead at a time, team members have been forced to listen passively. Consequently, fewer ideas and perspectives are shared, and little is accomplished. Rank-and-file employees below the most powerful person in the room are less likely to contribute and are less likely to stand up to leadership with differing ideas. The cultural impact of these traditional interactions has maintained oppressive hierarchical structures, negatively impacting women and African American professionals more than others.
The oppressive White male culture has left women fighting for a share of voice in rooms dominated by men, and African Americans fighting for a place in the room at all. According to the 2019 annual McKinsey and LeanIn.orgWomen in the Workplace report, which surveyed 68,500 employees across 329 companies, half of the women surveyed reported being interrupted or spoken over, and 38 percent reported that others had taken credit for their ideas.
For African Americans, being heard is secondary to access. A 2019 report,Being Black in Corporate America, by the Center for Talent Innovation, found that only 8 percent of people employed in white-collar professions are African American, and the percentage drops dramatically at higher rungs of the corporate ladder. The majority of African American professionals who participated stated they have experienced racial prejudice in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, they were about four times more likely to encounter prejudice than White professionals (58%-15%) in interactions ranging from others taking credit for ideas, being excluded from relevant meetings, and being passed over for growth opportunities.
While it is a gross understatement to say we are a long way from equality in the workplace, there are early signs of promise that we can attribute to the shifts we are experiencing due to remote work.
In the remote work environment, thanks to collaborative technologies such as Slack, Google Docs, and Bluescape, countless people can participate in meetings at the same time, from anywhere, making meetings more productive, diversified, and dare I say it, enjoyable?
As one of our senior managers observed, Bluescape’s virtual work platform has democratized the way people can share ideas and collaborate independently of where they live or how they like to work. By allowing people to express themselves and their ideas on these virtual platforms through adding notes, comments, and visual aids during meetings, everyone can weigh-in equally on a given discussion or project. While the usual suspects may still demand a higher percentage of voice, co-workers are now finding themselves more able to contribute in less vocal ways within collaborative platforms during video meetings. This works to amplify all team members’ voices and recognize the ideas of those who are typically overlooked or spoken-over.
More Flexible Work Arrangements
Remote work creates an opportunity where opportunity rarely existed before. One Bluescape employee, for instance, commented on how the flexibility of remote has helped many women return to work quickly after having a baby than ever before. “Being a mom myself, I remember how difficult it was to leave my newborn with a nanny so I could go back to work. With remote work, new moms can now continue to be part of their newborn’s life while also maintaining a consistent work presence.” The lack of flexibility offered in the traditional work environment was preventative for many mothers in numerous ways, particularly if one was the primary caretaker of the home. Now, mothers and caretakers can balance at home needs with work. Women, thus, can now prioritize both family life and career, leading to greater opportunities for promotion and the ability to pursue leadership positions.
Remote work has created challenges and does pose risks for underrepresented populations, however. While parents, particularly women, scramble to balance work with homeschooling and keeping the home, other minorities don’t have access to the technology required to work remote jobs, and many lack a proper place to work within the home. According to a2019 Pews Research Center survey, roughly eight-in-ten whites (82%) report owning a desktop or laptop computer, compared with 58% of African Americans and 57% of Hispanics. But despite these challenges, the initial risks cannot outweigh the opportunities gained in the long run. The collaborative effort culture that is arising has the power to neutralize the historically White male-dominated business culture by amplifying all employee voices and diversifying ideation. In effect, women and people of color cannot only be included but also recognized and given new, equal opportunities.
Shifts Away from Urban Living Begins to Equalize Opportunities
Greater flexibility has also created a massive opening for people outside of large metropolitan areas. With fewer opportunities to earn liveable wages in the US cities offering the most tech, marketing, and finance careers, most African Americans have historically been forced to live in more affordable remote locations. Compared to their typical White city-dwelling counterparts who traditionally have participated in corporate opportunities, the chances for African Americans to participate have been stunted. These remote minority populations have had to overcome the challenges associated with the costs of living near the most expensive cities in the country, but those attributed to commuting and handling childcare costs as well. But as remote work culture continues to permeate business ecosystems, remote communities are no longer too distant to participate. And as we continue to realize it doesn’t matter where anyone lives, the obstacles for those in remote locations are no longer as significant.
While foundational prejudice and discrimination remain the principal barriers to entry in upper management positions for African Americans, women, and many other underrepresented minority groups, remote work presents an opportunity. Forward-thinking business leaders must dismantle the oppressive structures existing within their organizations. And they must also consider how office locations reinforce bias and limit access to top talent. By allowing your employees to choose where they live and work based on their cost of living preferences and the environments that add the most value to their lives, you can begin to eliminate location bias within your company.
When you make your workers shine, you open up opportunities for diversity within your teams. Additionally, you create more robust thought diversity as more diverse perspectives are brought from different locations and backgrounds. As more and more companies continue to move in this direction, wealth and opportunity can become better distributed throughout the country, leading us to see the exciting impact technology can have on society at large.
About the Author
Brett is a copywriter, life coach and former professional athlete. He uses his teamwork and leadership experiences from Major League Baseball to present ideas around life work balance, team productivity and work dynamics to technology companies utilizing productivity tools to enable healthier and happier lifestyles.