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Digital Fairness Should Be a Top Priority for Every Workforce Leader

August 08, 2022 Employee Experience
Lance Haun
By Lance Haun

Late last month, Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook) released its 2022 Diversity Report. Now, Meta isn’t high on my list of ideal companies to copy but, of course, it’s much more nuanced than that. There are some things that Meta is doing right and remote work is one of them.

According to the report, over the last year, domestic candidates who accepted remote job offers were substantially more likely to be Black, Hispanic, Native American, Alaskan Native, Pacific Islander, veterans and/or people with disabilities. Even globally, candidates who accepted remote job offers were more likely to be women. 

This isn’t insignificant. Meta’s goals for increasing diversity in the workforce were ambitious and they have either met their goals years ahead of schedule or are trending toward early completion. It’s impressive, and remote work has been a complete revolution in they way the company accesses talent outside of their traditional hubs. But I am worried. 

Hiring is one thing. And not to make light of the difficulties of hiring, but it is episodic. Retaining employees, helping them develop and grow, and creating a great employee experience is a long-term commitment that requires constant effort. What good is hiring individuals from underrepresented groups if managers don’t know how to properly lead them in a digital workplace. How does the company make sure that issues like proximity bias don’t impact the individuals Meta has worked so hard to hire?

Why Digital Fairness Matters

It comes down to fairness. I’d even take it a step further in Meta’s case and call it digital fairness.

Equitable and fair workplaces have long been the goal of progressive workplace leaders. They are slowly but surely making some progress. For example, nearly nine in 10 of Fortune 100 companies list equity as a corporate value. You may not be a big believer in corporate values, but it's worth noting that mentions of diversity, equity, and inclusion on earnings calls have increased by 6-times in the last five years. 

Unfortunately, organizations still struggle with fairness when it comes to employee perceptions. According to recent Gartner research, more than 80% of employees say their work environment lacks fairness. In other words, not great. From an employee perspective, if a company has made progress it’s only because the standards were so incredibly low.

There are new fault lines emerging in the effort to encourage fairness at work. Harvard Business Review covered what the future of fairness at work will look like. The takeaway: Yes, new challenges along the lines of gender, race, ethnicity or age have emerged during the pandemic but others have come into sharp relief. The divide between parents and non-parents, salaried and hourly, or remote and non-remote are new (or more apparent) areas of conflict. 

These tensions aren’t going away after the pandemic becomes endemic. Many companies have made the shift to remote or hybrid work environments.

Related Article: Transparency Is Key to Making Employee Development More Equitable

Digital Fairness Is About Minimizing Disadvantages

Up until recently, fairness has been considered in the scope of compensation, hiring, development and promotion policies. The aim is often to mitigate the effect of bias inside an organization. 

But, an organization can do all of those things right and not create an environment that promotes a high-fairness employee experience. If a person sees that only parents get extra workplace flexibility, or that non-remote employees are the only people that are expected to show up on time, you can be hitting all your numbers and have great ESG reports and still have an unfair workplace. 

Fairness, especially in the digital realm, is best captured in the benign, day-to-day work we’re all expected to do. If every day is more difficult because of a perceived lack of fairness, it rubs people the wrong way and eventually, it gets exhausting.

As HBR covers, the traditional approach in organizations is mostly about removing unfair advantages or trying to make people feel better about them without actually fixing it. Instead, companies should minimize disadvantages for every employee.

The analogy they offer is an automatic door you might see at a supermarket. While these are designed to help people with disabilities or mobility challenges, they also make everyone’s life a little easier. Everyone gets the advantage, which is helpful when you have your hands full or wrangling a kid too. 

Related Article: The State of Transgender Employee Experience

Fairness Is the Every Day Experience

Meeting ambitious diversity hiring goals can’t be praised enough. The fact that remote work is opening up new avenues to individuals who might’ve been overlooked in the past warms my heart. 

But there are ongoing challenges. Other Gartner research showed that while employees working remotely perform just as well, if not better, as those who work onsite, 64% of managers say that those who come into the office are higher performers. Digital fairness for those who work offsite is going to be an important issue to solve. 

Behind the organizations making big pledges about diversity, and the reports that show progress, lies the everyday minutiae that is often overlooked. As companies look at why people, in spite of this progress, might feel like they aren’t seeing fairness, that daily experience has to be considered. And the daily experience is all about the immediate leadership and colleague experience.

If we expect to make the most out of widening talent pool and the hiring opportunities offered by remote work, we can’t do it in an environment where employees feel like every day the cards are stacked against them.

About the Author

Lance Haun lives life at the intersection of people, work and technology. He's currently a practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy and a contributor for Reworked and ERE.net.

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