Remote companies: ways to create a diverse and inclusive teamFeatured

Hi Elphas! We're trying something new with the Spotlight series. A common question that comes up in the tech world is, "What are ways I can create a diverse and inclusive team in my remote company?" We would love to leverage our unique experiences to offer leaders advice on how to foster diversity and inclusion in their teams. Please share your perspectives in the comments below.When I think about the companies I’d like to work for as a mixed race black and asian woman, I start by looking at the culture they’ve cultivated and what steps they’ve taken to make it inclusive. I want to know that I will feel like I belong there, because that’s what makes me productive, what makes me want to do my best and stay for the long run. I have worked at tech companies where I was made to feel like an outsider and I will always strive to avoid that.One indicator of inclusion is when I hear leaders tell me they invest in training for their teams - training that fosters greater belonging. Even remote teams can regularly attend training and get support from professionals and coaches. Being upfront about efforts like that will be a magnet for people from underrepresented backgrounds.Training topics might include tackling bias or how to be an ally to underrepresented people. Whatever they are, I want to know that it’s happening and that there is a consistent commitment to it. Stating clearly that diversity and inclusion is a top priority that comes from the top down, and demonstrating what that looks like in the company, will mean candidates from diverse candidates will be more attracted to your open positions.
If your company cares about D&I, I think the most effective thing you can do is to *play to your strengths*. Instead of asking, “What are ALL the things that are broken that we have to fix?” I advise startups to think, “What’s working, and how can we do MORE of it?” So remote companies should highlight and lean into the advantages they have. For example, remote companies often allow far more flexible hours, so your company could be really appealing for folks looking for non-traditional work schedules. So a little bit of investment in inclusive processes pay off in BIG ways.if you're not sure which of your strengths would be most appealing to potential hires, ask for help! I’ve worked with many startups on this topic, and can refer folks to great D&I consultants 😊
In doing research for my book, Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces, I spoke with Brad Johnson, a professor at the US Naval Academy. He told me that incoming students rely on their upper-class mentors to pass along “the gouge”—salient tips for surviving, thriving, and avoiding big trouble. Mentors aren’t just there to build confidence in their mentees; they can help prepare them for new challenges by sharing their own experiences and wisdom.Which begs the question: are members of underrepresented groups at your remote company receiving the equivalent of “the gouge”? Do they have access to mentors willing to give them the inside scoop, especially about how to be successful at your company? Whether they are new to remote work or more experienced, having someone guide them could make all the difference to creating a welcoming, inclusive workplace.
What a great question!
@karencatlin It's one of my concerns right now. I'm hiring for a couple of positions and I offered people remote options. The initial thinking was to offer a combination of working from home 2 days a week and in office 3. But as we're receiving applications, we have strong candidates who are located in different states which means we can't meet regularly. And I felt such a pain in thinking how we are going to coach the new hires remotely. Thanks again for the great question. And btw, I've just ordered a copy of your book on Amazon. Looking forward to reading it!
Remote work can be a good option for working parents/caretakers, folks for whom commuting poses a challenge, and others whose presence is otherwise underrepresented in the wider workforce. Remote companies can hire talent anywhere which opens the door to finding great people outside of the typical spaces. Creating an inclusive environment for a remote company follows the same path as any company! But where a co-located company might have the benefit of physical space and having teammates together in person, remote companies can get creative around recreating those scenarios. For example, a co-located company might have employee resource groups that meet together, but a remote company can create dedicated Slack channels to support these groups. Where a co-located company might host guest speakers or workshops that come to the office, remote companies can do these over Zoom and record them so teammates in all time zones can participate.
One important thing your company can do optimize its communication channels and expectations. As a linguistic anthropologist, I see all kinds of ways that tech companies have communication patterns that aren’t good for diversity and inclusion, including:- Muting or not hearing underrepresented people (we all know about women getting talked over in meetings, but there’s a lot more than that)- Not including all the relevant people in conversations, meetings, and decisions- Giving “less technical” perspectives lower weight/credibility- Not designating “uncivil” communication as out of bounds- Not keeping up with remote workers With a remote company, almost all your conversations are going to be via computers and phones rather than in person. Because we know that communicating via technology only (what we call “mediated communication”) is much harder than face-to-face, and much more ripe for misunderstandings and hurt feelings, your company is already primed to be intentional. I recommend creating:- Strict civility standards (including microinequities)- Real accountability and consequences for uncivil communication- Protocols to keep everyone in the loop- Protocols to ensure that everyone’s contributions have been heard, acknowledged, and credited.
This is a great perspective, thank you for sharing it! I've been working with several remote teams and I'm always a bit taken back by the lack of documentation of company culture and values, including stances on inclusion. I'm often met with the feeling that as remote first teams are the often seen as "progressive", and disrupting the traditional way of working, often we forget how crucial is to document items such as our values, culture, (including the protocols that you mentioned above).
Thanks Suzanne and hooray for being a resident Linguistic Anthropologist! Social and Behaviorial sciences bring a valuable contribution to technology heavy work environments.I wanted to add another perspective. These:"- Muting or not hearing underrepresented people (we all know about women getting talked over in meetings, but there’s a lot more than that)- Not including all the relevant people in conversations, meetings, and decisions- Giving “less technical” perspectives lower weight/credibility- Not designating “uncivil” communication as out of bounds- Not keeping up with remote workers"potentially open a company up to the terrible optics of a discrimination law suit, especially from protected class workers. So it's not just bad for culture, it can be devastating to the company.
I'm not sure this is 100% on topic, but I just wrote this up for the current Techstars Anywhere cohort (I'm a Mentor) - almost all of the cohort have remote teams, mostly to promote diversity, and I wrote this up to guide them in how to do culture for remote teams.
Hi Janine, I'd love to read it as well and requested for access just now. Thanks so much!
Would love to read, just requested access. Is there a public version?
Granted you access @abadesi (and a few others that requested it). I don't have a public published copy, and I can't figure out a way to attach a PDF here on Elpha. If there is a way to do that, happy to upload that.
Hi! I'd love to read too, requested access just now.
Granted :)
hi! i have also requested access :)
Super keen to read this! Have also requested access.
Thanks for sharing this @janinedavis. I currently work on a mostly remote team and would love to see this guide.
I think a big part of creating a good environment builds upon what you said regarding training and internal feedback loops - using that training to designate, create, and foster ALLIES of various untapped groups. My company does this and it is so effective. I see the positive trickle down effects of establishing allies on a daily basis. I know my boss is an ally and is open to learning, knows that he doesn't know everything (surprise!), and asks really great questions that help me learn new things and him learn new things. Someone to speak up, back you up, reinforce you, and educate/enlighten others makes challenges faced more bearable and makes things better overall.
awesome article girl!!!
We engage employees with a retention Slackbot that is specifically designed for remote workers. Among other things, it asks for feedback that reads something like: "These days, it seems like diversity and inclusion issues are in the news all the time. But what about here - do you feel that our organization helps people with diverse backgrounds feel included?” Feedback data is tracked over time and when the data starts trending down, it throws a flag in the admin view. At the individual level, if someone answers with a neutral or negative response, the Slackbot can also make suggestions like "How about nominating someone from a diverse background for Person of the Day and provide them with some positive feedback?" Or "There are many open positions here... how about referring someone from a diverse background for one of the open positions? Here's a link..." --> Things like that. I'd love to hear what you all think!
I love this idea, and with your permission, I'd like to mention it in my weekly "5 Ally Actions" newsletter. With or without attribution. Would that be okay CPeer?If you have a blog post or something where you've described it, I'd be happy to link to that resource.
Karen - I'd be delighted if you would be willing to mention it in your newsletter. We're hoping to get feedback anyway so your mentioning it would be greatly appreciated. I've sent you a LinkedIn request and my email address is carolyn dot peer at humaxa dot com - hope to hear from you soon! Carolyn Peer
Do you mind sharing the name of the Slackbot, please?
Sure! The company is Humaxa and the Slackbot is Alfred:
Hello everyone. A lot of people have requested access to the remote culture doc referenced below. I've granted everyone access and hope it's helpful for everyone. The Techstars Cohort that I wrote it for wanted to know a bit about how we approach culture work with our clients, in addition to more tactical advice on remote cultures. If anyone has any questions about it, just let me know. Thanks!
Hello Janine, I also want to look in to this. I am looking for help on this matter at this stage of my startup. Need access, can you please grant it. I am founder of Dentalpearls.
Hi Shalvi - I just granted access earlier this morning! :) Janine
Many Thanks , Janine.I recieved an email for the access. :)
I think creating a diverse team (remote or otherwise) would benefit from (1) removing names from resumes and (2) consider looking for alternative experience if the position allows. 1 - Diversity of Identity Labels. Names are gender/ethnicity labels that we just don’t need when making the first pass and deciding who to interview. Also get rid of addresses and other details not related to the job. While you’re at it, decide not to use “culture fit” as a reason not to hire people. Keep people honest by discussing what you really don’t like about a candidate so you can zero in on what your company wants and doesn’t want. 2 - Diversity of Experience. Engineering roles require engineers but lots of other roles don’t truly require experience in that field. If you look beyond people who have already done the job, you open yourself up to people who could do the job. I’m an attorney and I can bring perspectives to the table people that are often different from people with a traditional business or tech background:A - most companies do not track all of their spending, specifically with respect to human capital. I have yet to find a company using a dollar value to measure their time the way billable professionals do. How much is an hour of your time worth? How much payroll do you budget for a given meeting? You shouldn’t burn $5k of payroll on meetings over a $500 issue. B - valuing risk accurately is critical and is best done by litigators, who are experienced at managing risk (valuation hint: it’s the product of the magnitude and likelihood of the risk).C - your processes should be so good that no one wastes time on work below their hourly opportunity cost (see point A).D - asking leading questions is one of the fastest ways to get bad information. If you need to gather any data, litigators can frame those inquiries so you’re getting targeted, accurate information. (Think interviewing candidates or conducting user feedback sessions.)I would look at every part of the process and ask why you do things that way. Get an outsider (maybe a lawyer!) to talk through why you do things the way you do. You may find that there are lots of opportunities to change the process.
We think pretty hard about bias at, since our entire focus is in reducing bias in how we perceive and consume content. Our team is remote and spread across opposite ends of the world, and one thing I worry about is that there is more signaling on slack that folks need to do to make sure they are getting visibility. I like having different ways for the team to engage so there are other ways for people to get visibility for their work without feeling like they need to heavily market themselves within the company.