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Diversity and Inclusion in the Remote Workplace

By nature, remote companies aren’t limited by location which, of course, logistically grants access to talent all over the world. Often, this means teams have a higher chance to be made up of people with various backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences. Simply because they can hire people living all anywhere in the world.

This location independence also opens up the workforce to workers who are unable to commute. Whether that be due to commitments like family or children, living in a rural area, or physical ability. Remote roles allow qualified professionals access to work they may otherwise have to miss out on. Once again, this promises a talent pool inclusive of more groups who are generally underrepresented in the workforce, simply because they can’t always physically show up to an office.

But just because a remote model has the potential for more diverse and inclusive teams, doesn’t mean they automatically will be.

“Being remote opens the door to possibility, but you need to be intentional to make it happen,” says Leah Knobler, the Talent & Culture Lead at Help Scout a remote customer service messaging platform used by more than 10,000 businesses in 140 countries. 

Remote jobs may provide opportunity and access to diverse groups of people, but that will only translate to the actual makeup of companies who actively pursue changes in their recruiting, messaging and HR initiatives.

To learn more about how remote companies can embrace diversity within their teams, we chatted with Leah to hear the initiatives Help Scout uses. Leah shared a number of their strategies including specifically recruiting from underrepresented groups, refining their people-facing brand and continuing to educate themselves and remain open to different voices and stories.

Invest in your HR function 

When Leah joined Help Scout, there was a hiring process in place, but it wasn’t getting the results they hoped for.

“I did some analysis, and it became really clear that there was no shortage of white men applying for these positions. We wanted to hire more women engineers and we kept wondering, ‘why isn’t this happening?'” she says.

“We realised if women engineers aren’t applying, you’re not going to hire them.”

This preliminary research led to some significant changes for Help Scout. Leah became their first in-house recruiter and specifically targeted underrepresented groups in her process.

“Hiring is hard and a lot of work, so it makes sense to have a great recruiter to shape this process and partner with hiring managers,” she says. 

“It’s critical to create a fair, consistent hiring process so that you can hire excellent people while reducing unconscious bias.”

Recruitment makes up only part of a healthy HR function. Leah also recommends investing in more general people operations and culture.   

“So many companies overlook the importance of onboarding and how it takes work and intention to get new hires up to speed and adding value,” she says.

“All this effort spent on getting wonderful, diverse folks here doesn’t matter if they don’t stay and they don’t feel safe.”

Demographics and inclusion surveys

“One of the best things you can do is run a demographics and inclusion survey,” Leah says.

“It helps you understand all the different kinds of identities that are present in your company, while also allowing you to ask questions around belonging and inclusion.”

There are free templates available online through services like Survey Monkey and Culture Amp, so you won’t even have to create one yourself.

Having this kind of data can help you check in with your specific company break down and it becomes really obvious where you need to make changes. Questions around belonging and inclusion can also give you a sense of how well you are supporting your team.

“You have a story now,” Leah says. “You have data that says ‘we need to do something’ and if you need to get buy-in from leadership, that’s a really powerful piece of information to have.”

It can also give you a sense of what initiatives may be helpful for your team.

“Maybe you learn that 15% of your company identifies as neuro-atypical which might mean you’d want to do more awareness around mental health,” Leah says.

“For us, we found out that almost 40% of our company were parents or guardians. That changes how you think about things if you know your company is largely made up of folks who have other responsibilities for humans outside of work.”

It can also be used to track your progress or changes over time. Help Scout release a yearly report showcasing the changes they’ve implemented and the data from these surveys. It keeps them accountable, encourages growth and allows them time to reflect on and celebrate how far they’ve come.

Ultimately, data helps you decide what you should do next.

“If all of the engineering team is 90% white and male, I’d say that’s probably a glaring area that we should focus on,” Leah says.

Increase your talent catchment 

The fact that this is even an issue points to the shortcomings in traditional hiring processes.

To move towards gender balance, Leah began specifically reaching out to women in her recruitment process. She also started using targeted job boards such as Tech Ladies, Power to Fly, POC in Tech, and Women in Product. 

“It’s expanding who we’re looking at and reaching. If we kept doing what we were doing, we weren’t going to attract everybody,” she says.

Changing the target areas didn’t change any standards or requirements around skill levels. It was simply an intentional move towards increasing their catchment.

“People used to say, ‘oh if you do this, you’re lowering the bar. You’re only hiring people because they’re that identity,'” she says.

But this attitude quickly changed once Leah’s recruits started getting hired.

“It became really clear very quickly that these folks were amazing additions to the team, they made the team better, and they embodied our values. I think everyone was like, ‘oh yeah ok this is actually good, these are great candidates, alright keep it going.'”

Leah has also done work around framing job listings to avoid excluding any groups through things like content and language.

“We try to really avoid tech stereotypes like saying we’re looking for a ‘ninja’, or a ‘rockstar’, which doesn’t really mean anything. We also try to be really wary about saying things like, ‘we want someone who has 6-8 years of experience’. Instead, we try to say it in words,” she says.

“There are all these studies that show that women are less likely to apply for a job unless they think they fulfil 100% of the criteria. We don’t want to do anything that could be excluding certain groups. By saying we’re looking for this particular attribute rather than this many years’ of experience we’re more approachable to all folk, without compromising our own requirements.”

These tweaks to the recruitment process mean that more diverse groups of people are applying for jobs because they are actually seeing them, and they feel they are welcomed.

“As soon as we started making these changes, we started to see results. We didn’t have to wait long,” Leah says.

Educate yourself and ask for help 

Diversity and inclusion by nature are about bringing together a variety of different voices and experiences. No one expects you to know everything automatically, but you should be responsible for educating yourself on topics you don’t understand.

“There are so many resources to help anyone understand diversity and inclusion, especially in tech,” Leah says.

Equally, it’s also important to open yourself up to other people’s stories and perspectives. If you’ve never experienced racism or misogyny in the workplace, pay someone who has to help inform your new policy or to educate your staff.

“You don’t need to be a woman or a person of colour to make this work happen. If anything, this work doesn’t get anywhere without allies,” Leah says.

“After our demographic survey, I learned that Help Scout was 80% white and I thought, ok that’s a lot of people with power and privilege who can be great allies so let me bring in someone who’s going to teach us how to be a great ally. It was a monumental experience.”

Help Scout now has regular educational seminars on a range of topics including unconscious bias and disability allyship. 

“You can still educate, you can still help people learn about these things and get comfortable talking about it because this is a hard topic and it makes a lot of people get shy and afraid they’re going to say the wrong thing,” Leah says.

Make inclusivity a priority across your whole brand 

While the initial focus should be on initiatives that establish and promote a culture of inclusivity internally, this should naturally begin to flow outwards to affect your people-facing brand.

“We had a whole overhaul of our visual brand,” Leah says.

“A huge piece of that was [ensuring] there were a wide variety of [our illustrated] characters across race, gender, body size, ability. You want to be able to see yourself reflected when you go to a company.”

Help Scout Content Strategy Lead Emily Triplett Lentz also audited all the public-facing content to ensure the language was inclusive and welcoming to all people groups.

“All these little things infused across our brand come together to tell a story to someone – ‘oh I think this company has values and they actually live by them,'” Leah says.

Help Scout has also been intentional about remaining honest and open about where they are in their journey towards better balance.

“When we were hiring a Head of Design, we added a bullet point that said: ‘Our design team right now is five men — we get it, we’re trying to do better, maybe you can help us diversify our team,'” Leah says.

They received positive feedback from almost everyone who applied to the position.

“Almost every time being transparent about your shortcomings is better than trying to hide them. In the end, we hired an incredible, badass, head of design named Linda, and she’s fabulous.”

Keep going!

While Leah is proud of the efforts Help Scout has made over her four years, she maintains that there’s always more work to be done.

“We’re not anywhere near done, and I don’t think there is ever a finish point for this kind of work,” she says.

She encourages companies to take note of their progress through their demographic surveys. However, she warns against setting up arbitrary metrics or goals.

“Right now, we don’t have any in writing goals of where we would specifically like all our teams to be by a certain point,” Leah says.

“It would be a celebratory point if we got to gender balance. But, is that where we stop? Not necessarily. That’s the thing about all of this, there’s no – ‘we did it, check off diversity!’

“We just keep going.”

– Bree Caggiati

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