Working from home improves office diversity, JPMorgan CEO Dimon is wrong
JPMorgan CEO Dimon pushes return to office based on incorrect information about diversity
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon recently claimed that returning to the office will help improve diversity. And if he’s right, that’s an important argument for office-centric work. After all, extensive research shows that improving diversity boosts both decision-making and financial performance.
Yet does office-centric work really improve diversity? Meta Platforms — the owner of Facebook and Instagram — decided to offer permanent, fully remote work options after COVID-19 hit.
If Dimon is right, this shift should have undermined Meta’s diversity. In fact, Meta found the opposite to be true. According to Meta Chief Diversity Officer Maxine Williams, the candidates who accepted job offers for remote positions were "substantially more likely" to come from underrepresented groups.
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The numbers bear out these claims. In 2019, so before the pandemic, Meta committed to a five-year goal of doubling the number of Black and Hispanic workers in the US.
Frankly speaking, large companies usually tend to make bold promises, but underperform in executing on these commitments. However, thanks to remote work, Meta’s 2022 Diversity Report shows that it attained and even outperformed its 2019 five-year goals for diversity two years ahead of its original plans.
Is Meta special in some way? Not at all.
A Future Forum survey of 10,000 knowledge workers — who can work fully remotely — found that 21% of all White knowledge workers wanted a return to full-time in-office work. What about Black ones? Only 3%!
Plenty of other surveys show similar findings. For example, the Society for Human Resource Management found that half of all Black office workers wanted to work from home permanently, while only 39% of white workers did so.
What explains this disparity? Well, unfortunately, Black professionals are still subject to discrimination and microaggressions in the office. They are less vulnerable to such issues when they work remotely.
Similar findings apply to other underprivileged groups. That includes not only ethnic and racial minorities or people with disabilities, but also women.
Since this data is widely available, why did Dimon make the false claim about returning to the office improving diversity? He might have fallen for belief bias, a mental blindspot that causes us to evaluate truth claims based on how much we want to believe them, rather than the data. Another problem might be the confirmation bias, our mind’s tendency to reject information that goes against our beliefs.
While Dimon is absolutely wrong about diversity and remote work, that doesn’t mean it’s a panacea for underprivileged groups. Research shows minorities deal with bullying on video calls and harassment via chat and email, as well as other online settings. Another problem: surveys demonstrate that men frequently interrupt or ignore women in virtual meetings, even more so than at in-person ones.
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How do you address such problems? Companies need to train staff — and especially managers — to conduct remote and hybrid meetings in a way that’s sensitive to diversity concerns.
For example, when bullying and interruptions happen in virtual meetings, managers need to learn how to address it in the moment. Similarly, managers also need to check with underrepresented staff about bullying in private team communications. In both cases, the manager needs to be trained to notice any patterns, talk to those who systematically offend, explain why it’s inappropriate, and request that they change their behaviors.
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By following this path, and adopting best practices for diversity in hybrid and remote work, organizations will avoid Dimon’s failure to look at the data and patently false statements. Instead, like Meta, they will outperform their diversity goals and reap the financial and decision-making benefits of doing so.