Return-to-office mandates threaten corporate diversity goals and create challenge for recruiters

February 21, 2023, 1:04 PM UTC
Businessman using tablet PC in creative office
More stringent return to office policies threaten to hamper DEI recruiting.
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Last week, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy dug in his heels and called employees back to the office at least three days a week. He’s the latest in a string of CEOs demanding an in-office return

One aspect of the to-return or not-to-return debate that’s seldom covered is the DEI implication. Mandating employees’ physical presence essentially cuts access to the diverse talent pools employers have fervently said they’re trying to engage. 

Besides the fact that Black employees say they prefer working from home, citing the ability to escape the microaggressions and implicit biases of everyday office life, in-office work will almost certainly affect recruiters’ ability to reach more underrepresented employees.

Companies on the coasts will be hard-pressed to find as diverse a talent pipeline in pricey hubs like San Francisco and New York City. For one, about 60% of Black people in the U.S. live in the South, vs. one-third of the rest of private-sector workers, according to a report by McKinsey. The Black labor force is chiefly concentrated in ten states, including Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia. “Companies located in states with low Black populations—for example, much of the West and parts of the Midwest and Northeast—will need to think differently about how they effectively attract Black talent,” according to McKinsey.

In other words, if your headquarters are in San Francisco and you’re demanding office return, you might lose access to much of the U.S. Black labor force. And providing relocation fees is unlikely to help, either, especially as workers nationwide see the widespread layoffs in tech and finance—industries that are largely centered in expensive cities and have left now laid-off workers with pricey accommodations.

Jan Shelly Brown, a partner at McKinsey, encourages leaders moving back to an in-person model to consider geography in their decision-making.

“When companies are doing hub planning on where their footprint should be, there is an overlay of things like if there is a university close by that has a strong IT program,” she says. “One of the other criteria they need to think about is if Black tech talent is there.”

Amber Burton

Reporter's Notebook

The most compelling data, quotes, and insights from the field.

A.I. will eventually take over many jobs, which is not necessarily bad, says IBM CEO Arvind Krishna.

“I do think clerical white-collar work is going to be able to be replaced by this…We do have a shortage of labor in the real world, and that’s because of a demographic issue that the world is facing. So we have to have technologies that help.”

Around the Table

A round-up of the most important HR headlines, studies, podcasts, and long-reads.

- The Labor Department fined a food sanitation company $1.5 million for employing over 100 children, some as young as 13. New York Times

- Amazon has not lived up to its goal to be “Earth’s best employer,” according to current employees. Insider

- Fidelity Investments, unlike its competitors, is going on a hiring spree, filling 4,000 new roles in the first half of this year. Barrons

- One reason the labor market is so tight is that higher-earning men are working fewer hours. HBR 

- Companies need to have cultures of experimentation if they want to thrive in the future of work, says Wharton School of Business professor Adam Grant. Wall Street Journal


Everything you need to know from Fortune.

Supermarket showdown. Kroger is sending texts and emails to former employees to lure them back to working for the grocer. “Alumni are also a talent source,” said Tim Massa, Kroger's chief people officer. —Steve Mollman

Long COVID woes. Long COVID is still wreaking havoc on American workers. New research finds workers are struggling to return to work due to prolonged symptoms like brain fog. —Orianna Rosa Royle

Beating inflation. Half of the people who switched jobs in 2022 got raises that were higher than inflation, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. —Jane Thier

Bad review. Meta rated thousands of employees below average in its latest round of performance reviews, signaling further possible job cuts. —Chris Morris

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