Part III: Diversity, equity and inclusion amidst a pandemic
This article zooms in on diversity and inclusion in the tech sector, and new opportunities for some, alongside the challenges for many. It goes on to cover how companies can create a sense of inclusion in a remote working world, and gives examples of Thoughtworks’ approach.
‘Work from anywhere’ is far from utopia
As offices emptied themselves into homes, our always-connected and online world witnessed a blurring of boundaries between work and personal life.
This transition has given rise to many challenges (as discussed in Part II) including the lack of private spaces, usual child-care and support, efficient internet connections and the necessary work from home equipment. There are many for whom ‘home’ is not a safe space, given the rise in domestic violence  and LGBTQ+ suicides  across the world during lockdown.
These challenges, combined with COVID-related anxiety, have piled stress on relationships, affected mental and physical health, and begun to impact work. Simply having a wider view of a workforce’s varied experiences and contexts puts organizations in a position to help alleviate some of the issues. Understanding who is caring for children, or living with vulnerable people is key.
Some of the actions we took at Thoughtworks include:
- Offering support, and providing networks to carers. In the UK, for example, we offered additional caregivers leave and in Germany we offered 20% time allowance for those with child-care duties. Several regions offered an additional allowance for WFH equipment.
- Internal surveys and pulse checks during this time have helped us understand what anxieties and challenges people face, to ensure we can offer the right support.
- Mental health and wellness have been prioritized across the globe, with countries offering awareness sessions, 1:1 counselling support and workshops on peer to peer counselling
- In China, everyone checked in with their office leadership team daily, updating on their own and their families' health.
- Leadership connect has been critical in assuring people that we care, from town-halls and team connects to online roadshows and 1:1 sync ups.
- Internal Communication and people engagement are cornerstones of stability during a crisis. We've engaged on many levels, including games, challenges, work-outs and regional COVID information hubs.
The Remote Work Playbook gives advice from our experienced, voluntarily remote workforce. It combines best practices for virtual communication, managing stakeholder expectations, social practices and a how-to on supporting each other in a remote working setup. This playbook offers general guidance only. It's important to remember that people’s needs and challenges could be unique to them and try to accommodate wherever possible.
By 2022, Thoughtworks aims for 40% of its workforce to be women and UGM in tech. Remote working could provide our inclusivity programs with a considerable boost. Taking our training programs remote allows us to host more attendees – for example, there will be more instances of our VAPASI program in India that offers free, hands-on technical training for women on a career break who want to resume their tech careers.
We come together as a collective, with a shared purpose - this gives people avenues to form communities of mutual interest. Thoughtworks globally celebrated Earth Day 2020, and Pride Month 2020 during lockdown. We also came together to discuss, hear and support each other following George Floyd’s killing, and condemned systemic racism with over a thousand Thoughtworkers signing the Workers statement against racism and police violence.
Our communications are continuous, clear and open. From regional town halls to discuss major announcements to informal chat groups, to virtual onboarding and buddy systems. From checking emotional pulse with surveys, to workshops and training on mental health, as well as discussion forums on topical issues. Our intranet was completely re-purposed to act as a COVID-19 hub, and regular emails are shared from the country MDs or our global leadership.
Accountable beyond your ‘walls’
In the recent Case for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0  (World Economic Forum, June 2020) the moral, legal and economic responsibilities of organizations have been called out. The report highlights the need for businesses to take greater accountability not just for the impact they have on their employees but also on the broader communities in which they operate and serve, working towards positive social change and equity for all.
This is a time to integrate diversity, inclusion and equity practices in all aspects of the workplace and our society - we should not let this opportunity pass. The time of COVID-19 has been difficult for all, but the lessons learned can, and should, set us on course for a more equitable & inclusive future.