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The Price of Screen Presence: Will Working from Home Impact Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace?

May 6, 2020
By Caitlin Teahan and Andre Russell

Amidst a situation like the one our world is in, it’s human nature to turn inward and focus on basic needs. But there’s a balance that must be found between “survival mode” and normalcy. Today’s businesses know this all too well. As they shift and restructure to continue serving customers and employees, they face a similar struggle in trying to determine which business components will take a back seat, and which ones will remain a focus.

For many companies, one of the components in question is diversity and inclusion (D&I). Can it continue to thrive as we modify and adapt to this new work-from-home model? Can strong ethical and diverse workforces and solutions exist in a world where we are judged by our screen presence? Or will that judgment place many at a disadvantage? What considerations should be made to ensure work is still being done to advance D&I initiatives? These questions capture real problems that have the potential to inhibit today’s corporate culture that, until now, has been the arena for propelling D&I forward. Key decision-makers, leadership teams and individuals must decide if they will implement inclusion or allow it to falter as a byproduct of being categorized as a non-essential business function.

Recognizing the Problem and Becoming the Solution

At FleishmanHillard, we are continuing to invest in D&I initiatives as we work to not just maintain but thrive in a time of uncertainty. Our industry and agency are one of the few that could transition to a virtual workplace with relative ease. However, economic circumstance and inequality have become more apparent than ever. With video conferences as the preferred — and often necessary — communication method, things like internet speed, home décor and living situation are now out in the open and exposed to teammates and clients. This approach to work has the potential to increase intimacy in a way that may not be welcome or that could affect perception of peers in the workplace. Thankfully FleishmanHillard remains committed to leveling the playing field with professionalism and discretion. By offering various work-from-home resources and flexible work hours based on personal caregiving needs, our agency continues to place D&I at the forefront and emphasize our people-first approach.

Maintaining Normalcy Through D&I

Existing opportunities to share and engage peers on topics and through cultural events have continued after our shift to a virtual world. Sitting in the New York office, I can say that many of the initiatives that were built into our work community are alive and well — things like panels to discuss key movements and moments in time (e.g., women and the workplace for Women’s History Month), collaborative playlists that celebrate genres and their origins, movie nights with poignant undertones, book clubs followed by robust discussion, at-home cooking demos laden with cultural context and more! The results of these programs have enriched employee experiences through improved morale, better insights into client work and a stronger sense of collaboration. But the benefits don’t end there — many studies have consistently shown the impact that D&I has on the workforce. Which is one more reason to make D&I a priority within our “new normal.”

Making the Commitment to D&I

In a world where people are in need of personal connections, looking to be inspired and longing to share their passions and experiences, it seems D&I is now more important than ever. The choice to foster it is yours. Will you continue to be an advocate in a time that has revealed new biases? Will you be an example of understanding and support? Will you encourage inclusion amongst your peers?

At FleishmanHillard, our answer is yes. Because D&I is woven into the fabric of who we are. And as Ephraim Cohen, general manager of FleishmanHillard in New York, expressed, “FleishmanHillard has always been a place of welcoming, understanding and acceptance. It is a part of our culture and our people live and breathe it. It is why D&I hasn’t fallen by the wayside. These are important experiences that are a part of us personally and professionally. We will not allow our stance on D&I to be diminished as we navigate this new landscape.”

We will continue to enable these discussions and serve as an example for the workplace of the future where we are all welcome and equal. Please feel free to comment, share or contact us directly on Instagram at @FHNewYork. We’d love to hear from you!