As the pandemic rages on, many companies have implemented working from home orders extending into 2021. The situation has been difficult for employees, and has had disproportionate effects on employees of color. In March, when stay at home orders were widely implemented across the United States, workers of color faced a unique challenge, particularly with regard to the nature of their work. CNN reported in April that nearly half of all essential workers were either Black or Hispanic. With many of these roles unable to be performed remotely, a number of these employees were laid off. It was a struggle that systemically showed cracks yet again in our nation’s employment infrastructure. Now, employees of color who are able to work from home are facing difficulties for a whole other set of reasons.
Many of the diversity and inclusion (D&I) measures that companies undertook from 2019 into early 2020 included real time interaction among their employees. Prior to the implementation of these measures, many employees of color felt isolated within their jobs—either due to a lack of sufficient inclusion in the workplace or simply because there weren’t enough people of color hired. Now, this sense of isolation is manifesting itself in the context of remote work. The New York Times reports that diversity and inclusion measures are largely dependent on programs offered within the office. Without said resources, top management is more prone to default toward reliance on their “safety staff,” often comprised of individuals who look like them. As struggles with diversity in upper management continue, issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access are felt at all organizational tiers, leaving little room for employees of color in achieving upward mobility while working from home.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been experienced, to some degree, by everyone, yet a disproportionate onus has been placed on employees of color to succeed while working from home. This situation has arguably been exacerbated by the fact that many companies have only loosely confirmed in-office start dates, magnifying these challenges with no clear end in sight. Further, the current situation affects employees of color on a social level. Many opportunities to meaningfully participate in corporate culture are now on hold, again affecting dynamics of inclusion, particularly on platforms like Zoom, where employees of color often feel like they are not a part of the team.
Harvard Business Review revealed that many black employees often feel as though their white co-workers and bosses are gazing into their lives while on video conferences, forcing them to code-switch their speech while at home and even attempt to adjust their visual work environment in an effort to conceal their off-hours identities. This adds an additional sense of pressure to the ever-growing list of challenges that employees experience as they work from home and simultaneously balance their lives.
In an uncertain world, it is more important than ever that companies actively and intentionally promote diversity, equity, and inclusion among their workforces. Ultimately, such measures can hopefully lay the groundwork for long-term goals in achieving pay equity and authentic DEI objectives, both in and out of the workplace.
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