If we think about it, remote work was never really created equal — the pandemic was just the catalyst to magnify some of the gaps that were already there.
Like women, shouldering the burden of unpaid domestic labour, juggling teaching and childcare alongside full-time work. Or how lack of access to high-speed internet exposed digital inequality the whole world over. Or how our backgrounds on Zoom said a lot more about our socioeconomic and cultural circumstances than we intended.
Remote work has the potential to equalize employee experiences. It has the power to provide access and opportunities to employees that never had a look-in before. It can rebalance salaries and benefits based on needs, not locations. It can improve working experiences for those from marginalized groups.
But we’re not there yet, and it’s clear that building true employee equity is far more complex and nuanced than just providing a chair and monitor for your workforce.
We have to do better in creating a more sustainable foundation. Because if we don’t, we risk jeopardizing the progress we’ve made already.
The question now becomes: How can we avoid widening these gaps further — and how can remote work help us build more diverse, inclusive companies?
In today’s episode, We Are Rosie’s Corean Canty shares her perspectives on what the future looks like for diversity, equity and inclusion in a remote-first context, and what we need to do to level the playing field if remote work is going to work — for everyone.
“One of the mistakes we’re making about remote work is assuming that it means the same thing for everyone.”
Corean thinks that remote working has allowed us to shed the masks we wear at work.
She went remote back in 2015. Before that, she’d dabbled in occasionally working from home. But it wasn’t until she went fully remote that she realized how much more inclusive remote working felt — and how it gave her and others more space to be truly themselves.
“So many people put on this work mask and their work face and you never really know who they are as humans,” she says. “You build a relationship with them based on their work persona, but they could be someone totally different at home.”
“But there’s just a different mentality in remote-first cultures. Communication is more intentional, more effective. I realized that I was seeing little pieces of people’s lives that almost never get shared at work, like their spouses or their kids or their pets — or how they are in their own environment. Having that little view into their worlds means I’ve built stronger relationships with remote co-workers in a few months than the people I sat next to in an office for years.”
“Remote work helps me feel like I belong in the room — because this is who I am in my own space.”
Corean knows a lot about wearing masks, because she’s always worn them to. “As a woman of color in corporate America, there are so many ways you wear a mask at work,” she says. “Sometimes you choose one for yourself, but often, they’re applied to you. You’re put in these boxes, and you’re constantly worrying about perpetuating a false stereotype about yourself. It’s almost like when you go to school and you’re figuring out which table to eat lunch at, who to go to break with.”
Corean says masks were her armor — forged partly from self-preservation, and partly expectation that she needed to act and be a certain way. They were encoded in how she presented herself physically, the way she spoke, and in her behavior, helping her prove that she “belonged in the room”.
But in a remote-first context, Corean now feels like she belongs in the room, because remote work has helped her create the environment where she can be her full self.
“Now we’re working remotely from the environments we feel most comfortable in, we’re able to take those masks off a little more. You don’t have to walk into a room and have that pressure to find where you fit. You don’t have to figure out your relationships with people right away. You’re more protected in your own space.
“This is who I am in my own space,” she adds as a cat wanders in and out of frame behind her. “I’ve realized that I’m better when I’m my whole self. And if there’s somewhere that doesn’t accept my whole self, then they don’t deserve to have me.”
“We have an opportunity to connect with and learn from a wider variety of people.”
Corean believes that remote work is giving organizations an opportunity — not just to hire more employees globally, but to shake up ways of working and diversify our knowledge and ways of thinking.
“When we’re restricted to working in the same place, people have the same cultures, and they’ve been conditioned into similar ways of thinking,” she says. “But remote work gives us this opportunity to connect to a wider variety of people. We’ve all been raised in different ways, and different environments, we all think differently. And now we have this chance to build new connections with different types of people. That opportunity is where we need to anchor our experience of remote work.”
Now, Corean works with We Are Rosie, a flexible, globally distributed talent solution that connects underrepresented marketers with access to work opportunities. Diversity and inclusion are the company’s backbone.
“Often when we talk about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB), it always goes to recruiting practices and all of these tools that can either be lived, or can become mouthpieces,” she says. “But one of the things about remote work is that it covers a base that a lot of people leave out of the conversation with DEIB — location bias. If you think about a lot of these big brands, they’re often in cities.
“Even if you’re willing to recruit and bring people there, they might not want to go. It might not be an environment they want to raise their children in, or where they’ll feel like they’ll be treated well — or a place they’ll feel welcome. And so not only does it benefit companies being able to have access to a much larger talent pool, so you’re actually being able to grow and accelerate and be innovative.
“So now people have more access to opportunity, the next step is figuring out what that actually looks like. Are people going to have the same amount of visibility, and be able to contribute meaningfully? Are we acknowledging their work style preferences, or providing the right type of work rhythms for different needs? How are we setting up the way we communicate? Does everyone have to work from their home, or do you have stipends so people can get things set up to work the way they need to?
“I believe one of the mistakes we’re making about remote work is assuming it means the same thing for everyone. This isn’t just considering where people work, but how.
“If we really think about working remotely, are we creating the environment where they can find their way to do their best work and not be forced into one way of working? Because if we’re not, then things need to change.”