Where does remote work come into the DE&I equation? It’s different for Black professionals compared to their non-Black counterparts.

In a survey undertaken by social network provider Fishbowl, 35% of Black professionals say remote work is helping their potential for career advancement, compared to 27% of non-Black professionals.

Fishbowl, acquired last year by Glassdoor, is an app that enables professionals to discuss career, industry and workplace-related topics via conversations, comments and direct messages in thousands of “bowls.”

For its “2022 Black at Work” report, Fishbowl surveyed 64,000 professionals to assess the disparities in perceptions of career advancement opportunities between Black and non-Black professionals and whether DE&I initiatives are producing meaningful results in helping Black professionals feel supported and able to grow at their current companies.

The Black experience. Black respondents mention the following intangible advantages as drivers of productivity underlying their preference for working remotely:

  • A decrease in cultural microaggressions.
  • The heightened ability to bring their “full selves” to work (i.e., “code switching” and more easily adapting to corporate expectations) from the comfort and safety of their homes.
  • As with workers of all backgrounds, remote work opens the door to more career opportunities than was previously available, as many roles are no longer location -based.

Within the Black professional contingent specifically, reasons cited were more of the “day-to-day concerns,” where the aspect of office politics were mitigated, Fishbowl CEO Matt Sunbulli told Staffing Industry Analysts.

“They don’t have to navigate those politics as much in a remote Zoom environment, which really just doubles down on outcome and achievement and kind of finishing and doing your work capably,” he says.

The DE&I Landscape

Remote work and diversity, equity and inclusion have not necessarily been tied together for many contingent workforce managers. In fact, for many organizations, DE&I is still a developing consideration.

In a study released this month by staffing provider Korn Ferry, 83% of organizations say they have accelerated their DE&I efforts in the last 12 months — 43% of them significantly. However, while 71% said their biggest DE&I challenge is recruiting underrepresented talent into the organization, only 52% see retaining their underrepresented talent as a key challenge.

“Companies are focusing on the basics: managing risk from litigation, celebratory events and raising awareness through initiatives like unconscious bias training,” said Alina Polonskaia, global leader of Korn Ferry’s DE&I practice. “There’s nothing inherently wrong in these practices — they’re a useful starting point — but they’re not enough. Companies need to move faster to the next levels of their DE&I maturity and focus both on structural and behavioral changes to drive meaningful progress.”

The survey included 4,500 HR, DE&I specialist and senior executive respondents worldwide — including 1,749 in North America.

But beyond simply providing remote work options, companies seeking to improve DE&I within their ranks, need to evaluate their processes and procedures. The Korn Ferry survey revealed that 43% of organizations said they focus on developing equitable talent processes, 31% are starting to integrate DE&I into select business processes, and only 32% have created diverse and inclusive teams to improve performance. And workers notice. In addition, there were developments that both Black and non-Black workers reacted similarly to.

Promotion path. More than half of Black professionals in Fishbowl’s survey, 53%, said there is not a viable path to promotion at their current company, more than the 46% of non-Black counterparts who felt the same way.

According to both Black and non-Black professionals, the lack of a viable path was really about clarity. “They didn’t feel there was enough clarity about milestones that … would let them know that, ‘Hey, if I hit extra Y performance-wise, I will unlock title Z,’” Sunbulli said.

Relationships. The manager-employee relationship is an important contributing factor in determining how much an employee can grow at a company, and a large majority of both Black and non-Black professionals surveyed — 72% and 76%, respectively — reported they have a positive relationship with their managers.

Overall, Black professionals (like their non-Black counterparts) feel positively about their relationship with their managers. Employers should continue to support initiatives that build further on this dynamic and strengthen these relationships.

As we move deeper into 2022, contingent workforce managers should pay keen attention to the impact remote work has on their diverse workforces. Small changes to policies and more attention to the work-life balance experience can go far in helping to secure, retain and promote top diverse talent.