The year of 2020 has brought rapid social change. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven fear across the country - fear about our health and safety and fear about our economic stability. The pandemic has forced families to manage a nearly impossible situation -- protecting the health of children through distance learning while managing work at the same time, in the same physical space.

Simultaneously, Americans are witnessing the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and witnessing countless other Black lives forever changed by police violence. Many in our country have finally grasped the magnitude of systemic racism across our institutions and are demanding immediate change. The increased sense of urgency, conflict, and growing hate across the country is taking a psychological toll on all of us, and particularly our BIPOC communities.  

We have reached an inflection point. Creating an inclusive and safe work culture has become the key to corporate survival and a moral imperative of leadership. Workplaces can no longer demand that people compartmentalize personal life from work life. The two have always been inextricably linked, influencing one another in numerous ways, and even more so now that work and life are happening within the same four walls. We must create work cultures and systems that provide psychological and physical safety and support for our people. 

For the past 15 years, AnswerLab has been helping Fortune 500 companies build human-centered design processes for their digital products. Now, we are launching an open project to redesign work  The Human-Centered Work Project. This initiative will be funded by our $1 million Commitment to a More Inclusive, Safe, and Just World. Our intention is to iterate on programs, work structures, policies, benefits, and culture, making our lessons and learnings available for all here. We aim to inspire the world to change with our innovations and insights. And while we recognize that’s a high bar for a company of our size, we know that social change doesn’t happen without a big dream. 

Effective innovation starts with research, so we are leveraging our core skills as researchers first. We have launched two foundational projects, one focused on Race & Remote Work and the other focused on Integrated Work Life. The findings from both will be made available here as we go. We will also use these insights to experiment with more inclusive strategies, communications, processes, and programs. We will share what works and what doesn’t and provide templates for others to use. The faster we can help other companies make much-needed cultural change, the sooner we will achieve the more inclusive world we so desperately need.  

Starting with Inclusivity Benchmarks

We start this journey with baseline benchmarks. Last November, we partnered with ReadySet to understand how included AnswerLabbers felt in the company. While 79% of our team said they felt included in our culture, our goal is for this number to be 100%. 

This summer, we also began looking into our retention rate. While relatively high for our field, we found disproportionate rates between BIPOC employees compared to white employees. 

We find this gap unacceptable. It tells us we have important work to do on our own culture and employee development programs. We are looking to the work of Tema Okun to question conventional norms of research firms. Is a culturally ingrained definition of professionalism, combined with white-dominant qualities like "perfectionism," "objectivity, and "urgency" making our environment less inclusive for our BIPOC colleagues? 

Our internal survey also told us we have room to better support caregivers. During the pandemic, women have been disproportionately impacted with the burden of care and distance learning. We jumped on the problem early by offering Care Time (5 hours of work time that any employee can use for care related activities of any type - for others or themselves). However, we’ve learned that not every client engagement is structured to optimize use of it and that the benefit is not enough in this unprecedented time. We must also provide our team the autonomy to structure their work days in whatever ways best integrate with their family’s needs. Autonomy and flexibility can sometimes conflict with client needs, so we are now working on innovations in project design that benefit both AnswerLabbers and our clients. 

Early Gains

While we are sharing this work with you now, much of our work in inclusivity started several years ago, when we made inclusivity our primary business strategy. Cross-functional teams across AnswerLab built an Accessibility practice, made our research recruiting screeners more inclusive, and built materials to encourage clients to make inclusive design a business imperative. We also partnered with ReadySet, engaging in training workshops at our Annual Summit on how to become not just allies - but accomplices in using our power and privilege to actively help our BIPOC colleagues and communities. 

With an accomplice mindset, we were ready in June when Black Lives Matter protests happened across the world. We made a public statement in support along with donations to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and ACLU. What happened next? Our pipeline of BIPOC candidates for job openings increased 30% due exclusively to letting the world know we support Black Lives. We share this with you not to pat ourselves on the back. This kind of support should be a given -- not remotely controversial. Rather, we share this outcome because we have learned that something as simple as a public statement about company values can have a big impact. 

Increasing the diversity of our talent in AnswerLab will be the first of many gains in our goal to build a more inclusive world. We invite you to go on this journey with us. If you’d like to learn as we learn and leverage our resources, simply drop your email and name here for updates.

Next, learn more about how we laid the foundation for anti-racism research by looking inward.

 

About the author:

 
Amy Buckner Chowdhry, Founder and CEO
Learn more about Amy
 

 

The Human-Centered Work Project Resources

Tools you can use and customize to take action with your team, organization, or community.

Responsiveness Playbook
Guidance for communication, availability, and responsiveness to improve the remote work experiences for all employees.
 
Research Discussion Guides

Use this discussion guide to conduct listening sessions with your own employees about their BIPOC employees.

Open the Google doc