Challenges and Opportunities for Diversity & Inclusion in Remote Work during COVID-19

In this post, we continue sharing the results from a recent survey on the Impact of COVID-19 and Remote Work on Early-Career Computing Professionals. We asked respondents to give their feedback on the most significant ways that diversity and inclusion have been affected during COVID-19 due to working remotely.

Remote Work’s Impact on Diversity & Inclusion during COVID-19

Of the 253 participants in the study, (35.2%, N=89) responded to the open-ended question of how COVID-19 significantly impacted the diversity and inclusion of their organizations. Out of all responses, about half of them mentioned negative impacts (51.7%, N=46). Some responses state no significant impact (22.5%, N=20), whereas one quarter mentioned positive impacts (25.8%, N=23).

Let us first consider remote work’s negative effects on diversity and inclusion.

Negative Effects on Diversity & Inclusion

Social Isolation

About half of the responses about negative effects (52.2%, N=46) mentioned social concerns relating to isolation, challenges of being a minority on the team, and being a parent.

One-third of those mentioning social concerns (33.3%, N=8) spoke about social isolation experienced by minorities who may not be invited to virtual coffee breaks or feel comfortable attending.

“International colleagues from a different group on the same floor are not part of our virtual coffee breaks.”

“It is harder to get students who feel on the fringes to engage in online social interactions such as coffee chats”

Another third (29.2%, N=7) discussed the challenges of being a minority on their team.

“It made me realise there are only males in my team”

The remaining group (25%, N=6) discussing social isolation mentioned the difficulties of being a parent while working remotely during the pandemic.

“Parents are at a huge disadvantage in terms of productivity.”

Challenges at Work and in School

28.3% of negative responses noted that many challenges in work and school environments have had negative effects on diversity and inclusion.

Of these, about half (46.2%, N=6) noted that hiring freezes during COVID-19 have affected their ability to recruit diverse candidates.

“Had a hiring freeze, which is preventing us from recruiting candidates, especially those from less traditional backgrounds.”

Others (30.8%, N=4) noted the uneven workload for women and minorities in academic positions. Many found themselves juggling teaching loads, including the additional work of preparing online courses, with research and caregiving responsibilities. One respondent stated,

“Burden for faculty to meet teaching expectations and make up for the loss of research time hits CS women and minority faculty hardest.”

A few (23.1%, N=3) also mentioned negative collaboration experiences with their teammates and colleagues. In particular, some found it difficult to communicate and be heard in online meetings.

“There’s such an empty communication and accountability structure that the loudest voice wins much more now”

Lack of Resources

The remaining responses (19.6%, N=9) focusing on the negative effects noted that a lack of resources affected many, leading to barriers in diversity and inclusion.

Of these, 88.8% (N=8) noted that some do not have sufficient internet access to work productively or attend classes. Some (33.3%, N=3) also noted that a lack of home office or computers for every family member faced additional challenges while working remotely during COVID-19.

“Some students who do not have sufficient internet access were having difficulty in following the classes”

“Those who do not have a home office or who do not have home technology (a computer for each family member) are less able to work at the same level remotely”

Positive Effects on Diversity & Inclusion

Working remotely had a positive impact on diversity and inclusion for some. 25.8% (N=23) of respondents highlighted the positive effects that working remotely has had in their organizations.

Of these, 43.5% (N=10) noted that online events and meetings were easier to participate in and more accessible for many.

“Everyone is digital now. So people interact with those they have business with and not who is close to them in proximity.”

Others (34.8, N=8) highlighted that the increase in online digital communication has made it easier than ever to talk about important issues.

“Already in an organization that values diversity and inclusion but the Covid-19 remote work coincided with the timing of protests and prompted even more open discussion of racial issues.”

Lastly, some respondents (21.7%, N=5) mentioned how working online afforded more flexible schedules which can be beneficial for many.

“Work has been much more accepting of flexible work hours.”

No Effect on Diversity and Inclusion

Some respondents (22.5%, N=20) believed that working remotely during COVID-19 has not affected diversity and inclusion in their organization.

“I don’t think it has changed the demographics.”

How is Working Remotely during COVID-19 Affecting Early-Career Computing Professionals Specifically?

As we have seen in our previous blog posts, early-career computing professionals have faced many unique challenges while working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these challenges have been magnified for minority groups and for women. The responses to this question described how people who don’t feel part of the group do not always feel welcome to attend online socials, leading to social isolation. This can be even harder for new employees who have recently started and may not yet have had the opportunity to meet their colleagues in person.

Several survey responses also noted the challenges parents faced, and especially mothers as they balance work and childcare during the pandemic. In practice, we have seen that childcare more often falls on the mother’s shoulders, requiring them to choose between their careers and family. However, survey responses that remote work can also offer some benefits here, by making it possible to work from home at flexible hours.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives often face many challenges in the computing industry. Around the world, uneven access to resources, the latest technologies, and education play a part and people from diverse backgrounds do not always feel welcome in the industry. In this blog post, we considered how increased remote work might continue to contribute to the problem unless steps are taken to promote diversity and inclusion in the future of computing.

Stay tuned to learn more about the results of our survey and how working from home has affected young computing professionals!

Wellness Team, ACM Future of Computing Academy

Jessica Hair, Software Engineer, SmartFile, jessica@hairsquaredsoftware.com

Jaelle Scheuerman, ACM Future of Computing Academy, jaelle@gmail.com

Gürkan Solmaz, Senior Researcher, NEC Laboratories Europe gurkan.solmaz@neclab.eu

Pamela Wisniewski, Associate Professor, University of Central Florida, pamwis@ucf.edu

Image Credit: Working From Home Vectors by Vecteezy


Challenges and Opportunities for Diversity & Inclusion in Remote Work during COVID-19 was originally published in ACM Future of Computing Academy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.