By Corporate English Solutions

14 August 2023 - 10:44

Equity and Inclusion in Flexible Work Arrangements: Empowering a Diverse Workforce

Flexible work arrangements are key drivers of employee engagement, wellbeing and performance. But lack of equity and inclusion can have stark consequences. 

When did you last review your flexible work policies and application for DEI? How flexible is your flexibility? Discover actionable strategies to mitigate the two most common barriers to inclusive flexible working.


Reading time: 6 minutes

Despite the recent return-to-office mandates issued by some global companies, flexible working continues to grow and be a top motivator for job seekers today, second after salary. One study showed this was strongest among underrepresented groups including employees of colour, women and working mothers

Doubtless, we’ve all got used to some type of flexible working. Arrangements such as working from home (WFH) or anywhere, (WFA), compressed hours, schedule flexibility, job shares, paid time off (PTO) without earning or accruing it and sabbaticals.

The benefits are huge. Flexible working, in particular hybrid models, boosts employee engagement, wellbeing and sense of belonging. For employees of colour, remote work significantly increased a sense of belonging and the perception of being fairly treated. Flexible working impacts the bottom line too – positively. It can boost retention, loyalty, productivity and create a more positive organisational culture. 

What about lack of equity and inclusion in flexible work? The consequences are stark.

Employees may feel a lack of control and ownership, decreased motivation and lack of opportunities for learning and career growth. It can stifle creativity and innovation. The organisation can suffer too. It could erode trust between management and employee, decrease employees’ sense of belonging, increase burnout and impair performance. Without a DEI-centric flexible work policy, you risk harming your overall DEI efforts. 

So, when did you last review your flexible work policies and procedures for DEI? Is your flexible working truly inclusive? 

Read on to discover actionable strategies to mitigate the two most common barriers to inclusive flexible working. 

Barrier #1: Rigid policy development and implementation

No surprise that many flexible working policies are rigid as they have been designed on traditional work models. What’s more, they’re often implemented without allowances for diverse needs or accommodations. 

Factors such as lack of awareness, inadequate training and support for managers, a rigid organisational culture, resistance to change, and concerns about accountability, performance, and team dynamics are just some of the reasons for this.

The result? 

A one-size-fits-all approach. An out-of-synch approach with today’s workplace. 

Ready to flexify your flexible work policies? Here’s how:

Strategy #1 Foster an equitable, inclusive flexible work culture

Spark a flexible cultural revolution.

Advocate for a range of flexible work arrangements through open discussions. Inspire and influence by communicating how flexibility boosts productivity and wellbeing. Educate employees with a range of learning resources to spotlight the organisation’s commitment to an inclusive and equitable work culture. 

Another simple step? 

Model flexible work, in all its forms, in your schedule and practices. Encourage senior leaders to do the same. 

Crucially, demonstrate integrity by building flexibility into the creation and application of flexible work policies. Need resources for that? Gain support from senior leadership for the tools and training for managers. 

Strategy #2 Establish clear objectives and metrics

Are your policies set up for success? Who you involve in the set-up phase is crucial for results. 

Engage with diverse stakeholders to define the policies’ objectives and metrics in alignment with your organisation’s goals and values. Include DEI specific objectives in flexible work policies and application guidelines. Ensure the objectives and expected outcomes are communicated clearly to all employees. 

And show everyone what success looks like. Use data-driven metrics to champion how flexible working is boosting productivity and performance. Ensure future success by keeping them under regular review. 

Strategy #3 Implement pilot programmes

Wait! Don’t roll out all your policies to all employees just yet. 

Initiate a pilot programme to check your flexible working policy really does achieve its stated outcomes. Mobilise a pilot group of diverse employees, from a variety of roles, departments, teams and demographics. Incorporate DEI objectives in the pilot and include a focus on the application of the policies. 

Use the first-hand data from participants to strategise what to improve as well as the outcomes and benefits. 

Now you’re ready for roll out. 

Strategy #4 Provide resources and training for managers on equity, diversity and inclusion

Successful flexible work policies requires ongoing dedication. 

Invest in continuous upskilling for managers to keep them updated on best practices and trends in flexible work. Provide diversity and inclusion training, tools and resources for managing flexible teams from remote collaboration tools to performance management software. 

And steer your remote employees to success. Set clear performance expectations, ensure consistent standards and support with guidelines and resources. 

Strategy #5 Address concerns proactively

Bumps in the road? Your opportunity to course correct. 

Ensure employees know how to, and feel empowered to, express concerns about flexible work arrangements. Encourage open communication, through a range of channels. Create a feedback mechanism and learn from employees’ suggestions. Optimise team cohesion by initiating solutions proactively.

Barrier #2 Bias in flexible work policy development and implementation

No surprise that flexible work policies and their application will fail to adequately accommodate diverse needs if they harbour conscious or unconscious biases such as proximity bias, confirmation bias and stereotyping.

Biases in flexible work policies emerge from a lack of diversity in decision-making, "Ideal Worker" norms favouring full-time employees, age stereotypes, cultural biases, assumptions about commitment, productivity, and perceptions of fairness.

Ready to bias-proof your flexible work policy? Here’s how:

Strategy #1 Ensure stakeholder diversity in discussions and decision-making

Who sits at your decision-making table? 

Ensure diverse stakeholders, from a range of underrepresented groups and individuals, are given a place and a voice. Counter groupthink by incorporating diverse viewpoints and needs into the policy-making processes. Assemble task forces and focus groups to evaluate the impact of flexible working on employees from diverse backgrounds.

And don’t stop there. 

Initiate radical acts of understanding. Make the workplace a dynamic exchange of different perspectives, across generations, cultures and responsibilities. Create sharing sessions and team-building activities to connect diverse employees, learn about preferences for flexible work and break down stereotypes and reduce bias. 

Strategy #2 Customise policies for individual circumstances

How well are employees’ unique needs and circumstances known? 

When we don’t know, we judge. Even more so when employees are working flexibly. So-and-so is less productive; so-and-so is less committed. And so biases build.

Reduce biases by engaging in one-on-one discussions with employees to learn about preferences, responsibilities, circumstances and productivity patterns. Customise flexible schedules and solutions. Customisation can help reduce biases by recognising that employees of different age groups or cultural backgrounds may have distinct preferences for work arrangements. 

One way for a truly inclusive workplace? Individualised arrangements. 

Strategy #3 Establish inclusive, transparent communication and feedback mechanisms

Address biases openly to promote fairness, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

Establish feedback mechanisms for employees to express concerns they have about flexible policies and the application. Promoting a culture of openness demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to inclusivity and equity in policy improvement. Ensure potential biases are acknowledged and action taken to signal robust and effective feedback procedures. 

Champion transparent communication. When policies change or new decisions made, share the rationale. Aid employees’ understanding to reduce perceptions of unfairness. Cultivate an atmosphere of trust.

Strategy #4 Proactively address unconscious bias

Uncover unconscious biases consciously.

In hiring and promotion invite multiple perspectives into the decision-making process. Ensure diverse representation on interview panels and consider unconscious bias in the evaluation of candidates. Try blind hiring. Remove identifiers such as name, age, gender from application forms or when requesting CVs. Or use skills-based tasks to evaluate performance.

Broker mentoring and sponsorships programmes to connect leaders and employees from diverse backgrounds and break down barriers. 

And your role as manager?

Lead by example. Show that you, and other leaders, value diversity in the workplace. Intentionally seek out diverse perspectives and create a workplace where everyone feels heard, is seen and respected.

Advocate for unconscious bias training for those onboarding and for all employees. Equip the workforce with practical tools and knowledge to identify biases and mitigate them in decision-making processes. 

Strategy #5 Recognise inclusive practices

Make inclusive practices count. Celebrate employees who uphold inclusive practices and implement flexible work arrangements. 

Highlight success stories. Frequently. Share real-life examples where diverse employees have benefitted from flexible work options. Show how the policies have boosted wellbeing, productivity and work-life balance. Recognise managers and teams who have fostered an inclusive and equitable workplace.


Promote DEI-centric flexible work policies and application to empower your employees, foster autonomy, and increase ownership, career development, engagement and wellbeing. And your organisation benefits too. Embracing flexible working flexibly helps unleash creativity and spark innovation in a workplace where employees feel empowered to contribute to the organisation’s success. 

British Council has over 80 years’ experience of cultural relations and partnering with organisations to ensure their workforces have the skills to succeed now and in the future. Our experienced intercultural skills trainers develop leaders and teams to collaborate and communicate effectively in diverse cultural contexts. 

Contact us for a free consultation.