How to Promote Equity Within Remote Working Environments

One of the highlights of The Talent & Growth Podcast is talking to people who are truly passionate about what they do. We were recently joined by Hannah Litt, the Head of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Anti-racism and Resourcing at Mindweaver. She’s really open and honest about her own experiences and journey, and gives great advice for businesses who are either looking to go on that remote journey or are wanting to go back on that office-first journey. She outlines what adjustments companies need to make in order to provide an equitable workplace. 

We’re talking about equity in the workplace with remote working, why is this a topic that you’re so passionate about?

Because if I didn’t work remotely, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. I’ve worked remotely/hybrid for the last 10 years or so, maybe a bit longer. If I couldn’t do that, then I wouldn’t be able to ever stop. There’s no way I could go into the office five days a week, and there’s no way I could work nine to five either. Having a flexible approach is something that’s really important to me. Seeing comments and posts and conversations and stuff that are taking place now that we’re ‘going back to normal’ is something that I can’t ignore because it’s really really important for me. I use my voice for people that need to have their voice represented. 

I have hidden disabilities, so if you were to look at me, you probably wouldn’t guess that I’ve got anything wrong with me. I have fibromyalgia that I’ve had since the age of 13, I’ve recently been diagnosed with ADHD and I have something called idiopathic intracranial hypotension, so I can’t sit for long periods of time. Even going into an office and sitting in a chair is agony for me. Walking more than probably 10-15 steps can be agony for me. Just sitting in my car driving is tough. I suffer from chronic migraines so I don’t know a day where I don’t wake up and have a headache. On days where I do have to go into the office I have to set my alarm for 3am to take pain relief, so I can get up and function like a human being to get into the office at 9am. 

I’m really lucky with the employer that I have now, because everything we do is centred around equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism. There are days where I don’t log on to attend, and that’s okay. The actual physical act of getting up and not having a headache and functioning is hard, so there were days where I would just get up and I would sit there and I would just look at a screen, I wasn’t doing anything. I would be in excruciating pain just to be there. It was pointless. I could just take my time and accept my life and identity and be a little bit more human and do what works for me. Have I ever not delivered? No. Do I just need to work in a slightly different way? Yes. Being given the flexibility to work from my sofa with my feet up or work from bed is essential for me. That’s what I need to do. I saw someone say ‘people just working in their PJs in their bed makes them lazy’, but it makes me able to do what I need to do some days. When people had long COVID and they were like, ‘Oh my God, my body hurts so much’, that’s what people with chronic pain feel like every day. For a lot of people with hidden disabilities that’s just life. Having the ability to work how I need to is so important. 

People are putting out the negatives around working from home, how does it make you feel when you see people with influence on social media talking like that?

The people that are making those comments are generally people that get to walk into rooms and feel like they belong. I don’t think that people like Malcolm Gladwell and Alan Sugar realise that they have the privilege of walking into a room – any room they want to – and feel like they belong. People from underrepresented groups, especially global majority groups, don’t have that privilege. Aside from the fact that I have hidden disabilities, I am a woman of colour, and remote working has really benefited me because I don’t have to go into an office and I don’t have to deal with microaggressions. In previous organisations that I worked in, I didn’t want to go into the office because I had to deal with microaggressions. It’s not just people with disabilities that people just don’t want to go back into the office. People just don’t want to go back. They don’t want to have to deal with the nonsense that comes with it. I don’t want to go into an office five days a week because it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting.

From a business point of view, what can the positive results be if you do promote equity using a remote first workplace?

From a cost point of view, it’s a no brainer. You don’t have to pay for travel. Your building costs go down. For anybody that’s worried about it, this isn’t an employee issue, this is a leadership issue. I never had an issue leading my team remotely, and people who have an issue because they can’t micromanage their teams either haven’t hired the right person or need to look at their own leadership style. 

There are loads of benefits from a business point of view, because you’re giving your team the opportunity to increase their wellbeing, to have more time with their family, to be able to switch off, to be able to do your household chores… All of these little things actually are a huge benefit to your employees’ well being. For me, it’s all about choice. It’s not about going, ‘we are remote’, because that isn’t for everybody. I do like to go into the office every now and again. I do like human interaction. But it’s about giving people the choice to do what works for them. It’s not about imposing an office culture or a remote culture on anybody either, it’s about asking your employees what works for them, and doing what works for them and having that balance. That’s that’s all it is, it’s about doing what’s right for your employees.

Which talent pools are we opening if we create a remote first business?

You’ve got Gen Z, disabled people, the neurodiverse population… it opens you up to everyone. I’m done giving people the benefit of the doubt. We’ve kind of gone past that. I’m here for holding people accountable. Google is free. It’s quite clear to see who we could be alienated by not doing the right thing. You can just ask questions within your own organisations to see who you would be including or excluding, because all you need to do is listen and talk to people.

What message would you like to personally send the business leaders out there who are driving back an office first culture?

Stop thinking about yourself. A lot of business leaders can walk into a room with no aids quite easily and feel like they belong. They have that privilege. There are demographics of people out there that do not have the privilege of walking into a room being physically or mentally comfortable enough to walk into a room and feel that they can belong. If I go into an office, I have to come home and sleep afterwards, and I’m unwell for days. They need to understand their privilege and recognise that privilege and understand that when they ask people to do that they are basically excluding a huge population of people and basically saying ‘you’re not welcome in my organisation’.

To hear more of Hannah’s insights into creating equitable workplaces and her tips on how to promote inclusive behaviours, listen to the full episode of The Talent & Growth Podcast here. 

On Talent & Growth we speak to talent leaders about the challenges they face and their solutions for attraction and retention. If you’re interested in hearing about how companies are building a more diverse talent pool, how you can attract top people from the big players, ways to create a more inclusive interview process or learn about the latest and greatest automation software to make your life easier, then this is the podcast for you.

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