Author Minda Harts: 3 ways to promote a virtual work culture that prioritizes inclusivity

The author of “The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table" says management cannot lose sight of how critical diversity, inclusion and equity is in a remote working environment.
Minda Harts, CEO of The Memo LLC, best-selling author and assistant professor at NYU Wagner.
Minda Harts, CEO of The Memo LLC, best-selling author and assistant professor at NYU Wagner.Elena Olivo

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By Minda Harts

In the early 2000s, I met a woman on the subway in Chicago who told me she worked from home. At the time, it was a foreign concept to me. I had the impression that in order to “work,” one needed to leave their home and physically go into a building.

I remember thinking, “the day I find a job that allows me to ‘work from home’ is the day I hit the jackpot.” I wouldn’t find that opportunity until more than a decade later when I was hired as a philanthropic advisor in New York City.

Now, as the U.S. ramps up its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are experiencing remote work for the very first time.

Learning how to navigate workplace dynamics is already challenging. Now throw in the kids, pets and partners, in addition to video conference meetings, Trello boards and Slack channels. You might be feeling like the office and your commute wasn’t that bad after all.

The good news is you’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the future of work.

During this difficult time, it’s important to remember that leadership prioritizes a virtual culture of belonging and inclusivity.

The future of work is here, and we get to decide if we want to make the workplace better than we left it a few weeks ago.

Consider the woman who was starting to build the confidence to ask her manager for a raise. Or think about the woman of color who already felt like the “only one.”

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For many, it seems impossible to be “seen” when you are no longer in the office. Management cannot lose sight of how critical diversity, inclusion and equity is in a remote working environment. Mentorship, sponsorship, and allyship should not take a back seat while everyone is working from home. The real talent development starts now!

When I took that role in 2014, I was the only black woman in the department, and there was no one in leadership who looked like me. I had two big concerns: How would I secure my seat at the table from my house when I was on the opposite coast from the rest of my colleagues? Secondly, would being the only minority woman present challenges of belonging and opportunities to advance in a remote working environment?

With a lot of hard work, I was able to secure my seat and advance. Here are the three biggest strategies that I learned and can help foster an equitable, remote working environment.

1. Continue to invest in your talent.

Right now, leaders have a unique opportunity to invest in their talent like never before. Many employees are worried about being laid off or how to adjust using new technology. Remember, now isn’t the time to solely focus on the bottom-line.

Equally important is providing your employees with some stability. Are you invested in their success? Shy away from cutting budgets for professional development. Have public speakers virtually inspire and engage your talent, as they navigate this new landscape. Your employees need tangible examples of your investment in their success.

2. Become a success partner.

How are you partnering with the diverse talent in your company or organization? While you are making critical decisions for your employees, be vigilant that your virtual meetings reflect the voices of those who have historically been excluded from the table.

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Look around the “room.” Is it diverse? If not, who can you invite and provide opportunities--as new business needs arise. Again, leaders can create a new business case to redefine access for all employees. By doing so, it creates an opportunity to serve as a sponsor or mentor.

3. Allyship Matters.

When I was working in a remote environment, I was often put in situations where my manager would cancel video meetings, not include me on important conversations with clients and sometimes question my expertise in front of others on calls.

On those days, I felt isolated, and I never had a colleague advocate for me or provide allyship. Now is a great time to take inventory of how you are showing up for your colleagues when they are being talked over, or not called on during virtual meetings.

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Did you see something inappropriate said in the chatbox? I realize many of us are trying to wrap our heads around managing or being a better colleague from afar, but remember to always listen with curiosity, lead with empathy and show up for your colleagues by leaning into your courage.

As we continue to navigate our new work reality in the days, weeks, and months ahead, let’s not forget the values that our companies and organizations were built on. Let’s make sure the workplace is better than we found it.

Minda Harts is the CEO of The Memo LLC, a career development platform for women of color. She is the best-selling author of "The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table," and an Assistant Professor at NYU Wagner. Minda frequently speaks at Fortune 500 Companies and Universities and Colleges on topics such as Leadership, Managing Diverse Teams, and Advancing Women of Color in the Workplace.