Remote work hasn’t just saved product printing firm Cimpress $9 million a year in office space. It’s also seen the number of women hired increase exponentially.
Since Cimpress, parent of business card and photo printing brand Vista, introduced a remote-first working model in August 2020 for its 1,600 office-based employees, global hiring of women for leadership and managerial roles has risen from 9% in 2019 to 30% in 2022, according to data it shared with WorkLife. The rate of female exits from the business has dropped from 24% in 2019 to 10% in 2022, while female promotion rates have jumped from 7% in 2020 to 11% in 2022.
Common caregiving and healthcare challenges that disproportionately affect women at work can be mitigated through a remote-first environment, said Veronica Acevedo, Vista’s director for diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Women who are caregivers can better navigate school, childcare, or eldercare schedules, and women experiencing pregnancy or menopause can avoid a physically daunting commute and manage symptoms discreetly,” said Acevedo.
In its advocacy for the ability of remote work to boost DEI, Cimpress is in good company. Social media giant Meta made headlines recently when it announced it had beaten its diversity goals by two years thanks to remote work. Since 2019, the company has doubled the number of Black and Hispanic workers in the U.S. and the number of women globally. It’s credited remote work for diversifying its workforce and hiring pool, in line with McKinsey research showing that underrepresented groups are more likely to prefer and stay at remote or hybrid jobs.
It’s a far cry from the negative stance on remote work held by the likes of Elon Musk. But as the data from McKinsey, Meta and Cimpress have shown, remote work is one way to move DEI forward. It’s in fact one of the most effective diversity strategies noted by the 580 signatories of the U.K. Tech Talent Charter — a government-backed industry group dedicated to promoting DE&I within their organizations.
Remote work isn’t just succeeding at creating more female-friendly workplaces. Articulate, an online course creation platform, has been remote-first since it was founded in 2002. It reached gender parity both company-wide across its 400-plus employees and on the executive team in 2021. Over the past five years, it claims it has also increased racial diversity by 48%. In 2020, 53% of new hires were multi-racial, Hispanic, Black, or Asian globally as were 57% of new leaders hired in this period.
CEO Lucy Suros said working remotely can minimize the micro aggressions and discrimination people from minority groups are still exposed to in the workplace.
“It’s stressful, exhausting, and dehumanizing to constantly have to code switch and endure discrimination for half of your waking hours. It’s no wonder 97% of Black knowledge workers prefer remote or hybrid work environments and 80% of women say remote work options are among the most important factors when evaluating a new job,” argued Suros.
“The financial benefits of working remotely, such as reductions in transportation, food, and clothing costs, can also be especially meaningful to BIPOC folks and women who often earn less than their white and male colleagues.”
For global HR and payroll platform Remote, which has been remote-first since launching in 2019, reported that more of its 975 employees are women than men and that this style of working also helps people who identify as neurodivergent.
“Conforming to a neurotypical workplace can cause huge problems for neurodivergent employees. ADHD, for example, is often linked to sleep issues, so people with the condition often struggle with early mornings. An employee with ADHD at an async, remote-first company will find the flexibility to work when and where suits them, allowing them to shine outside the constraints of a traditional office and schedule,” explained Nadia Vatalidis, Remote’s vp of people.
But it isn’t as simple as relying on remote work to fast-track a company’s DEI credentials, Vatalidis added, noting that “opportunity and reality are not the same thing.”
“Growing a positive remote culture can be challenging,” she acknowledged. “Businesses must have measures in place to build and maintain an inclusive workplace for remote teams. You can’t have an inclusive workplace unless everyone at your company feels safe and supported.”
Remote work may remove barriers for underrepresented groups, but won’t just fix a DEI problem, agreed Amanda Richardson, CEO of coder interviewing platform CoderPad. The company is remote-first and claims a “diverse group” of employees, but didn’t supply data to WorkLife.
Remote doesn’t automatically mean diverse employees will be drawn to a business or stick around, Richardson warned. A company must alter its policies and cultural norms to support all types of people, starting with fair and transparent hiring.
“Many companies still rely on recruiting from certain universities. Others rely too heavily on signals that can lead to a homogenous workforce, such as referrals from personal networks or a candidate’s ability to perform under pressure in interviews carrying more weight than a skills assessment,” said Richardson.
Despite the complexities, Articulate’s Suros feels the numbers from companies like hers, Cimpress, Meta and Remote should inspire more companies to follow suit. “I hope companies who are evaluating their remote work policies see this data as a positive endorsement for the impact remote can have on DEI,” she said.