The Impact of Hybrid Workplace Decisions On DE&I Dynamics

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-04-01-2022, Volume 42, Issue 4

Why their influence on employee representation matters for pharma.

We are in the midst of a significant workplace shift, as new practices and policies form around hybrid working. While leaders debate the impact of flexibility on employees and the bottom line, it is critical to consider the impact of decisions on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).

Our industry has intently focused on increasing the representation of underrepresented employees over the years and embraced the fact that diversity is achieved and reinforced by establishing inclusion, a sense of belonging, and psychological safety. A growing body of research and insights have emerged that provide helpful insights on the changing needs of workers.

Future Forum, a consortium sponsored by SLACK, surveyed 10,737 knowledge workers across the US, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and the UK. Its January 2022 report, Leveling the playing field in the hybrid workplace, shed light on the importance of how we move forward with hybrid policies, including the following insights:

  • Most global knowledge workers now expect flexibility in where and when they work.
  • The desire for flexibility is particularly strong among those historically underrepresented in knowledge work—including people of color, women, and working mothers.
  • Seventy-eight percent of all survey respondents say they want location flexibility; 95% want schedule flexibility.
  • In the US, 86% of Hispanic/Latinx knowledge workers and 81% of Asian/Asian American and Black knowledge workers would prefer a hybrid or fully remote work arrangement, compared with 75% of white knowledge workers.
  • Globally, 52% of women want to work at least mostly remotely compared with 46% of men.
  • Fifty percent of working moms prefer to work from home most or all of the time, compared to 43% of working dads.
  • 72% of workers who are dissatisfied with their current level of flexibility at work say they are likely to look for a new job in the next year, compared with 58% of total workers.
  • While 72% of executives believe they’re transparent about remote work decisions, only 47% of employees agree.

How pharmaceutical companies forge ahead in decisions impacting their workers may pave the way for positive or negative trends in the representation of employees. A July 2021 article in S&P Global Market Intelligence reported that Black and Hispanic employees make up about 13% and 18% of the pharma workforce, respectively. However, these groups only account for 8% and 9% of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations within the sector. Similarly, while women represent 47% of the workforce, they account for only 26% of STEM roles.

Companies have made significant investments in increasing representation in STEM through education, programming, early identification and development of talent, and much more. Understanding and responding to the changing needs of post-COVID workers is a new variable in the overall equation. We need to be mindful of the unintended consequences of our decisions regarding how we work. In Don’t Let Hybrid Work Set Back Your DEI Efforts (Harvard Business Review, October 2021), Alexandra Samuel and Tara Robertson challenged that hybrid work is likely to exacerbate diversity and equity challenges and gains observed during the era of remote work: “As we shift toward a hybrid workplace, both the equity-enhancing and equity-reducing aspects of remote work are likely to be complicated and intensified. On one hand, it’s easy to imagine a two-track situation in which some people put in more face time at the office, thereby garnering advancement opportunities and promotions, while others fall behind. It’s also easy to imagine a world in which the benefits of working remotely all or most of the time are a privilege given to some demographics more than others.”

Thinking of hybrid working as a preference, therefore, may short-change the realities facing workers. For instance, one-third of all US employees have left a job during their career to manage an unmet caregiving responsibility. It is important to note that two out of every three caregivers in the US are women.

Decisions about how and where we work may not only impact employee representation and be an important driver of engagement; they may very well affect our ability to understand and serve an increasingly diverse group of patients and providers. Our ability to experiment and learn fast is a new business imperative.

Denice Torres, senior healthcare executive; founder of The Mentoring Place, a free career mentoring program for women; and CEO of The Ignited Company, a change management and DE&I firm