It has been just over a year since the global pandemic began and the nature of the workplace as we knew it has shifted rapidly. Many of us have had to adjust to remote working. Gone are the days of commutes and water cooler conversation, now all we have to do is roll out of bed and switch on our laptops if we are amongst those who are able to work from home. Starting new roles remotely has become the norm, rather than an exception. 

While it has certainly been a challenge, for both businesses and employees, it is uplifting news to hear that we can return to the office soon. The pandemic has also given us a unique opportunity to re-evaluate how we operate so that we can shape a new future of working, one that champions equity and inclusion. What would the nature of a business look like if we were building it from scratch, post-pandemic? 

At Gapsquare, equality is our main motivator rather than a mere box-ticking exercise. We provide innovative solutions through our analytics software, consultancy and research to help companies create fairer workplaces and work towards eradicating pay gaps caused by structural inequalities. Our vision of the future of working is one where work is inclusive, where pay meets value and diverse talent thrives. 

We already know that 69 percent of millennials and Gen Z are more likely to stay for five years or more if working for an employer that recognises the value of diversity. Numerous studies have proven over and over again that diverse workplaces outperform their competitors, encourage innovation and create an overall more satisfied workforce. 

“There is no quick fix for achieving equality in the workplace but there are plenty of good practices that can contribute to moving the needle,” says Johannes Smits, director of PwC. “Firstly, organisations need to understand where the pipeline for diverse talent is leaking or blocked.”

The future of working is one where work is inclusive, where pay meets value and diverse talent thrives”

So how can we re-imagine a fairer world of working? Let’s find solutions to common concerns both established companies and start-ups have tried when it comes to tackling the task of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and set out a roadmap for a fair future of work. 

Solution 1: Accountability against inequality 

The black lives matter protests in 2020 were instrumental in creating more open conversations around the subject of race including how we can create more equal opportunities for people of colour within the workplace. However, it is easy to make hollow statements and not back them up with direct action. Some companies even go as far as stating that they have already arrived and the way they are operating has always worked for them. In the experience of the team at Gapsquare, the belief that the job is done is often a sign that you haven’t yet started. 

One company which is doing the very opposite of this is Hilton Hotels and Resorts, recently ranked number one on The Top 50 Companies for Diversity list and has been featured on the list for the seventh year running. 

Showing an ongoing commitment to going above and beyond for D&I, they recently announced set goals to improve gender and ethnic diversity in leadership roles, as part of their post-pandemic recovery. 

Hilton plans to achieve gender parity in leadership roles around the world by 2027 and have 25 percent ethnic diversity in US leadership roles within the same time frame. The company will hold itself accountable with a public dashboard updated annually to report on hiring, as well as tying executive compensation to how much progress is being made. 

They believe that by fostering diversity, they can provide more meaningful experiences for guests and create a positive impact on communities. This hands-on approach is what is needed when it comes to tackling the ethnicity pay gap and creating a fairer world of work for our diverse teams. 

Solution 2: Equality integrated into policy 

These days we’d like to believe we are all equal. After all, women and people of colour can gain meaningful employment these days, seemingly without any overt barriers. However, this doesn’t mean that barriers don’t exist within the workplace itself, even manifesting as early on as the hiring process. 

Tackling structural inequality requires constant commitment to improving the workforce and remaining adaptable to the challenges that come along with trying to achieve this goal. 

Research reveals that nearly 80 percent of global organisations do not prioritise female advancement in the workplace and do not have any formal policy in place to support this, despite studies proving time and time again the benefits of women in leadership positions. 

To achieve true equality, Smits firstly suggests businesses conduct “thorough data analysis, in the moment and over time. Secondly, have an open dialogue with staff to understand how people experience fairness, belonging and trust when working in your organisation.”

In addition, gender and other forms of equality must be seen as a business priority and implemented into business goals accordingly. For businesses just starting out, the earlier this is implemented, the easier it will be in the long run and the benefits will be obvious. The statistics speak for themselves, as research shows that all companies with 30 percent or more women in executive roles outperformed those with smaller percentages or no women executives at all. 

Research reveals that nearly 80 percent of global organisations do not prioritise female advancement” 

Solution 3: Flexible working options  

Flexible working is the future. It encompasses a variety of options that are particularly helpful for those with childcare or caring responsibilities, such as blended working, compressed hours, part-time hours and term-time working arrangements. 

A 2013 study found that 72 percent of workers reported that productivity is a direct result of flexibility, amongst other benefits such as higher quality decision making and utilising time more effectively. This is likely linked to the mutual trust built between employers and employees and a greater sense of autonomy felt by employees which leads to a more satisfied workforce all round. 

The pandemic has shown an increase in the popularity of flexible working. Our reports show that 73 percent of fathers said they would like the option to work flexibly post-pandemic. This in itself suggests a cultural shift in the conversation surrounding flexible working, which has been previously discussed largely on the basis of gender. Those who refuse to adapt will increasingly seem outdated and also miss out on the benefits of flexible work options. 

We see companies returning to the office every day, despite the general consensus that adapting hours and having at home working as an option is an effective and productive strategy.

Solution 4: Acknowledging intersectionality 

When it comes to dealing with disability pay gaps and employment gaps in the workplace, companies have got away with side-stepping the issue up until recently. With working from home now the norm as a result of the pandemic, and previously closed doors opening for some with mobility issues in particular, the conversation about how to accommodate employees with disabilities has once again been raised to ensure a fairer future of work.

Those with disabilities benefit from working from home for a myriad of reasons, such as difficulty with the daily commute, as well as office environments often lacking the adaptations and accessibility needed for those with physical disabilities and neurodiverse individuals. 

A survey carried out by UNISON, found that 73 percent of disabled staff felt they were more productive or as productive work​ing from home ​compared to when in the office. 54 percent felt they would benefit from working from home in the future.  

Technology has allowed both non-disabled and disabled individuals to carry out their jobs remotely – better still, they have permitted us to do so socially, equally, and with adjustments to different types of workstyles and locations. We can’t underestimate how revolutionary this has been, and should continue to be.

Whilst it is true that ending disability-based pay inequity and lack of workforce opportunities can require more in-depth knowledge of your employees’ experiences than tackling gender or ethnicity, it’s completely doable and highly valuable. Around 15 percent of the world’s population have a disability – depending on how you measure this, the number could be significantly higher. The data can be challenging, due to the vast range of disabilities and how they are defined but employers are more than up to the challenge. 

Examples to look at for those just starting out: companies like HSBC which have built ‘ability’, one of its eight global networks focussed on D&I in the workplace, Uber which has done similar work and our clients Accenture, which has championed disability data collection and developed this research on embracing disabled employees in the US.

To quote our partner Lord Shinkwin, a strong advocate for disability D&I in the workplace, “We’ve had mandatory gender pay gap reporting since 2017. It is the law for organisations to report where they are on this under threat of sanction. So why can’t there be a read-across for disability?”  

We are passionate that the journey to fair and thriving workplaces should be simple and stress-free. That’s why we enable companies with fair pay and inclusion data analytics. The pandemic has given us an incredible opportunity to re-write the script for the future of working – it is up to us to take it. 

“Define your vision complete with objectives for which you will hold your leaders accountable,” Smits lastly recommends, “Finally, build your D&I roadmap with clearly defined initiatives and allocate the resources that are required to succeed. Then comes the hardest part – execution. But there will be progress.”

If you don’t, you might find your company is left way, way behind.  

Dr Zara Nanu is CEO of Gapsquare