Why Remote Business Models Are More Inclusive
by Thom Brown
80% of people want companies to be inclusive, but this often isn’t the case. In 2020, which was a hard year for most workers, unemployment rates rose for ethnic minorities, low-income families, foreign-born workers, and veterans. Over a longer period of time, though, the situation has been improving. Arguably, remote work has done a lot for this cause. Here’s why the remote business model is better placed to create more diverse and welcoming workplaces.
Place of Birth or Current Location is Irrelevant
The traditional employment model is geographically limited. All candidates must live within commuting distance of the office or be willing to relocate. This means that if a big opportunity opens up in San Francisco, it’s only really open to people from California or those who want to move there. Big cities in developed countries are where the best companies tend to base themselves, giving an advantage to people who live in these areas.
If you’re a computer programmer from Kenya or a graphic designer from Chile, it’s not exactly easy to relocate to somewhere like New York or London. Rental prices in these kinds of cities are high, meaning you’d have to find a job there before you relocate. Employers will notice how far you are from the company HQ and will likely disregard in favor of someone local.
This is inherently discriminatory because it ranks people according to their place of birth, which is something completely out of their control, or their current location, which they may not have necessarily chosen. With the rise of remote work and online employment, opportunities are widened to more people. Of course, place of birth can still play a massive role in a person’s career path, but remote work is beginning to close the gap. Employees are able to live in an affordable location – whether that’s close to home or the other side of the world – and still have equal access to amazing job opportunities.
Charisma and Extroversion aren’t as Important
Building your people skills can really help you get ahead in the traditional job market. Being confident and charismatic often makes up for a lack of experience or qualifications. However, this is unfair to those who are more introverted or shy. A University of Toronto study measured career success-related variables and found that extroversion was an advantage in 90% of cases.
It’s important to work on your social and networking skills as a way to improve your performance at work. However, some people are simply less extroverted than others. Why should we force them to change their personality traits, especially when introversion has its own advantages? Instead, it’s the world of work that should shift to become more inclusive.
Remote work models do exactly that. By putting distance between the client and the freelancer, it’s easier to take an objective view. Employers are more likely to look at a candidate’s skills and experience, rather than being swayed by their wit and charm. Even when a remote interview is involved, it’s usually easier for a shy person to come across well on a video call than it is to remain personable for the duration of a face-to-face chat.
Less Focus on Identity and Background
We’ve come a long way in terms of openness to people different from ourselves. Nevertheless, obstacles remain for certain sections of society. Workers are often treated differently for being too young, too old, transgender, gay, working class, or an ethnic minority – to name just a few variables. Even if the bias is unconscious rather than overtly discriminatory, it’s still having a devastating impact on many people’s careers.
In a traditional office setting, a person’s identity or background can be immediately spotted and this results in unequal treatment. For instance, 47% of Latina women and 48% of African American women claim to have been mistakenly identified as administrative members of staff. In a remote work environment, where a person’s ethnic background may not be immediately obvious, it becomes easier to treat every employee equally.
Here’s another startling statistic: more than 60% of CEOs are over six feet tall, despite men of this height only making up 15% of the population. How tall someone is determines how much they earn, with each inch above the average adding $789 to a man’s salary. Surely, employers aren’t deliberately discriminating against short people. It’s just unconsciously happening. When people work remotely, height would never be a factor. It’s not exactly something you’d list on your resume. By making these immutable characteristics less obvious, remote work is inherently more inclusive.
What More Can Be Done?
While remote work is a way to increase accessibility and inclusivity, it’s far from perfect. Prior to the pandemic, the countries with the most remote workers were Luxembourg, Sweden, Iceland, and the Netherlands. These are the wealthiest European nations, with the highest levels of education and freedom. Residents of these countries still have an advantage over others.
In developing countries, the picture is very different. While over 50% of Luxembourgian workers have the potential to work remotely, the same is true for just 5.24% of those living in Mozambique. People from areas of Sub-Saharan Africa simply don’t have the skills, education level, or experience to land these lucrative remote roles. Being fluent in English is another advantage enjoyed by citizens of places like the UK, the USA, and Australia.
The internet is democratizing information, meaning that people from all areas of the world have a greater opportunity to gain the skills needed to build a meaningful and well-paid career. Remote companies should take pride in being more inclusive while understanding that there is still more work to be done.
We need to strike a balance between wanting to get to know candidates on a personal level and making sure that their identity, personality, and background aren’t influencing the decision-making process. There are no easy solutions, but let’s hope that remote work continues to widen opportunities to greater numbers of people. It wouldn’t just benefit workers, but also the companies who employ them.
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Born in Oxford, UK, Thom has been a digital nomad since graduating from the University of Sheffield in 2016. He’s a freelance writer and founder of Thom Brown Travel. Thom specializes in minimalist, ethical, and meaningful travel writing.