Part of the everyday experience of work is digital, in that employees spend much of their working day using technology solutions provided by organisations. Digital channels and collaboration platforms are also where they interact with other employees so it’s important that an organisation’s commitment to D&I is also reflected in the digital channels that employees use. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Generally, the legal profession has been progressive in actively supporting D&I at least through prominent initiatives in law firms. In-house legal teams can also exert a positive influence with HR colleagues, IT functions and the owners of digital channels to ensure that D&I policies are consistently reflected in all aspects of organisational life, including the digital workplace. While inevitably this will be from a legal, risk and compliance perspective, it can also be from a commercial, operational and ethical perspective too where there are obvious multiple advantages for applying D&I.
When it comes to applying D&I to digital channels there are several different aspects to consider.
The accessibility of digital channels and content is important in supporting D&I initiatives and showing that promises are actioned. Accessibility tends to be associated with people with physical disabilities, but actually accessibility can cover much wider groups, such as people who are dyslexic and even people accessing content not written in their primary language.
There are a range of accessibility tactics which you can use to begin making sure your websites or internet is compliant with WCAG 2.0 standards (which are internationally recognised) and allows for the use of assistive technologies such as screen readers. Other measures can also provide value beyond accessibility, for example providing subtitles or transcripts for videos.
Access for all
One of the most important foundational elements of ensuring your digital channels reflect D&I policies, is to make sure that all the channels are easily reached by your entire workforce. Not having access to content and digital services may put some of your employees at a disadvantage.
Naturally, there are some logistical challenges associated with this. For example, frontline employees who do not have access to desks, or don't have a digital identity may not always be able to access the same services that those based in an office can. Where possible using mobile solutions or providing access tools to a common terminal for non-office staff can be a good option.
Many companies are now making progress in this area. In-house legal teams can help colleagues in HR to define the most important channels that need to be easily reached by all employees to ensure D&I commitments are being met. A related issue, covered below, is also making sure that some “core” content is translated into different languages.
Use of imagery
The imagery used on corporate websites and internal channels such as intranets is often regarded as important in reflecting the diversity of the workforce. While this is an issue it can leads to an over reliance on the use of “cheesy” stock imagery that doesn’t quite ring true and may even hint that D&I smacks of tokenism.
Ultimately this is as much of an issue relating to the use of stock imagery. Where possible, the diversity of your workforce is often better reflected in actually using imagery of real employees. The use of imagery should also relate to your actual content. So, for example, if you are featuring stories about employees from right across your workforce and you have healthy levels of diversity then the imagery used should naturally reflect this.
The ability to work from home and related policies is dependent on the right technology set-up in terms of equipment and the ability to successfully connect to the right applications, services and information. Remote working helps to support D&I by giving people in different circumstances the opportunity to work, especially employees with young children or who are primary carers. Does the way remote working is set up in your organisation genuinely support your D&I statements?
Acknowledging cultural differences to digital
Diversity and Inclusion also means being wary of cultural differences between the way employees work and what is acceptable or not acceptable across different countries and locations. This is obviously more of an issue in large global companies.
Cultural differences can impact the way employees use digital channels, for example, in what is acceptable or not acceptable to post on to internal social media channels or the kind of stories that are going to resonate with different parts of your workforce. Being aware of what might cause offence allows you to ensure you have appropriate usage policies in place.
In large global organisations multiple languages are spoken every day, although there is usually one or perhaps two “official” languages which are used (often English) globally. The extent to which digital platforms are used for the distribution of local content in local languages is often driven by cost rather than D&I policy – it is ,for example, usually impossible to organise the formal translation of all content into a single language.
However when some critical content such as HR policies are not translated, this can then become an issue. In-house legal teams can work with HR and internal communications functions to advise them on what content should be translated from both a legal and D&! perspective.
There are various tactics to support multi-language that can have a real impact. For example:
- Officially recognising more languages and defining the basic information that has to be translated into that language
- Establishing a robust process for translation of important announcements and updates
- Empowering local teams or offices to translate particular content where they see fit
- Allowing auto-translation of content on an intranet or internal social network. Auto-translation has proved to be a far more powerful tool than many would have anticipated and often allows the employees to understand content even with subtle nuances. It also removes a barrier to them posting content in their own language.
Employee resource groups
Employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups are basically formalised networks of employees from a particular group, demographic or with a common interest, who help to support members professionally, act as a focused voice on issues that impact that particular group and often work in partnership with the employer.
Often ERGs are representing groups who are important from a D&I perspective. In law firms, for example, typical ERGs group may include a LGBT network and a women’s career group. In other global companies, there may also be groups from an ethnic dimension, or even military veterans.
Recognising and working closely with ERGs is often an excellent way to support D&I efforts and digitally offering these groups a space on an intranet or an internal social network to not only promote themselves, but also as a place where network members can converse and co-ordinate their activities, this is another example of how companies can help support D&I efforts in a tangible way.
Sometimes in-house legal teams may have a role to play in defining just exactly what an ERG can be or not be. For example, some organisations avoid any group that might be considered to be political.
Career and development opportunities
Organisations spend a lot of time ensuring that external recruitment and career websites advertising positions also reflect and explicitly reference D&I policies. However, far less attention is spent on internal recruitment. The mobility of talent inside your organisation and the ability for anybody whatever their background and circumstances to gain promotion is important for D&I. If people outside your organisation have more information about open positions than the people inside your organisation, then something is not right.
D&I policies and information
It goes without saying that D&I information and policies should be in a digital format and in a place that is easy to find for employees, usually in a focused area on an intranet. Where appropriate this area should also be highlighted, for example in information provided to new employees. Having D&I prominently displayed of course shows your organisation’s commitment to D&I. This information may also be referred to or even displayed externally too.
The digital workplace is important and so is D&I, but there is sometimes a disconnect between the two. In-house legal teams are well placed to provide a sensible level-headed view and point out where D&I is not being applied. Although leading with a legal and risk hat on might make people listen, ultimately arguments which also show the commercial advantages of D&I and reflect a positive ethical stance are likely to be the ones that resonate the deepest and result in action.