Embracing Diverse Lifestyles: A Vital Element in Corporate DE&I Strategies

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It is becoming increasingly important for companies to recognise the different life models of their employees and take them into account in their DE&I strategies, says Donald Knight, Chief People Officer at Greenhouse Software. The future therefore lies neither in an office obligation nor in a 100 per cent remote policy where no workstation is provided.

Many employers define equality as a crucial component of their corporate strategy. DE&I concepts (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) represent a form of self-commitment to actively promote diversity, equality, and inclusion within their own company. The aim is for all colleagues to be able to contribute on an equal footing not despite, but precisely because of their differences. This not only aligns with their individual lifestyles but also expands the talent pool that companies can draw from. Would a mandatory return to the office diminish this opportunity for more equality, or is a remote culture perhaps not as inclusive as it seems at first glance?

From Home Office to Office Obligation?

In recent years, working from home has been celebrated by many as an important step towards greater inclusion. Conversely, mandatory return to the office is currently being sharply criticized in public discourse, especially from an equality perspective. Although DE&I is a strategic approach, there is a direct connection to the operational part of collaboration, namely the regulations regarding the workplace. The obvious arguments in the debate: Home office offers more flexibility, while working together in the office can strengthen team spirit. What is overlooked is that the respective advantages and disadvantages are much more individual for each employee.

Strict workplace rules hinder equality goals

Embracing Diverse Lifestyles: A Vital Element in Corporate DE&I Strategies

Gender equality is at the core of DE&I strategies. An example: According to the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, women spend on average 52.4 percent more time on care work every day, including childcare. Therefore, companies should pay particular attention to offering parents flexible and integrated work models. Self-determined time management in the home office would enable many to better reconcile their professional duties with childcare and other family obligations. On the contrary, an office obligation promotes the traditional division where one parent goes to work while the other takes care of children and household – with the foreseeable consequence that women’s opportunities in the labor market are restricted.

However, it should not be forgotten that exclusively working from home can also pose challenges. For example, if children are to be cared for by a third party in one’s own apartment, an external workplace can relieve parents. It’s not just parents and mothers who benefit from the flexibility of working from home. Many people have caregiving responsibilities for adult relative and loved ones which are just as important and time-consuming as parenting, and folks who are caregivers of any kind can benefit from flexibility in where and how they work.

People with physical disabilities or chronic illnesses can also experience considerable relief from the opportunity to work from home. Here, in their familiar environment, they can access aids and medications more easily and tailor their (working) day individually, including necessary breaks for treatments and rest periods. In addition, the potentially complicated commute is eliminated – a daily obligation to be present in the office would therefore be a criterion for exclusion for many.

On the other hand, some employees appreciate the opportunity to work remotely and see the office infrastructure as part of an inclusive work culture. Many also find it socially and healthily beneficial to separate living and working environments and to maintain personal contact with colleagues through collaboration in the office. At the same time, depending on the team constellation and range of tasks, it can be helpful to exchange professionally and personally.

More inclusion through individuality

Due to these individual needs, the key to successful inclusion lies in flexibility when it comes to workplaces and working hours. For companies, it will be increasingly important to recognize the different lifestyles of their employees and to reflect them in their DE&I strategy. Therefore, the future lies neither in an office obligation nor in a 100 percent remote policy where no workplace is provided.

Instead, workplaces and times should be as personally tailored as possible while still being in line with the company’s DNA. That this is also preferred by the majority of employees is shown by the State-of-Hybrid-Work-Study 2023: 64 percent of respondents wish for a hybrid solution, while only 18 percent each want to work in the office every day or entirely remote.

Ambitious DE&I strategies turning companies into attractive employers

Photo Diverse team in the office

Hybrid workplace models not only promote the satisfaction and health of employees but also ensure the competitiveness and future viability of the company. This is because a flexible workplace regulation also benefits other individuals who should be considered in DE&I strategies. Self-employed freelancers and international talents, part-time employees, and caring relatives are just a few examples.

Ambitious DE&I strategies make companies attractive employers for these target groups and thus increase their pool of potential applicants. It is therefore all the more important that the inclusive corporate culture becomes evident from the first contact with potential new employees, i.e., in the job advertisement and in the hiring process. This applies both in terms of authentic communication of corporate values and regarding the external framework conditions.

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Donald Knight is Chief People Officer at Greenhouse Software. He is responsible for implementing a global strategy and leadership in the development, support, and management of personnel programs. Before joining Greenhouse, he worked as Senior Vice President of Global Talent at Edelman. Donald earned his B.A. from Cornell University and has a master's degree in Human Resource Management from the University of Richmond.

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