Diversity and Inclusivity through Flexible/Remote Work

Heather Ruland Staines | March 26, 2018

When I first thought about a career in publishing, I already knew I would need to get creative. A former academic, engaged to an academic, I would have little control over where we would land.

My first job was as a book acquisitions editor in my specialty, military history. I loved developing manuscripts with my authors, especially giving younger academics the opportunity to publish their first books. All the while though, my (by then) husband was edging closer to the job market, and I too might be tossed with the wind. I did, however, have a glimpse of the future in the guise of one editor who had come as part of an acquisition. He was not office-based, lived “somewhere in California” and appeared only for the holiday party. If he could do it, why couldn’t I? Once the job market for my husband got real, and I was expecting my oldest son, I announced that I wanted to work off-site, like Jim–but not like Jim in that I wanted to remain fully involved in the department and its workings.

I worked for a year from Massachusetts (close enough to drive in once a month), then three years from Indiana and even for five months from Japan. During my early days as a remote worker, I suffered from the lack of tools that we take for granted today: conference call lines, webinars, video meetings. As the years passed, technology improved, and more and more editors and others in marketing, sales, and production moved out of the office.

Eventually, I moved back to Connecticut to be editorial director. That development put me back in the office, but it wouldn’t mark the end of my remote working. My next position was in New York City. So motivated to get the job and so thrilled at the offer, I realized with dismay that I hadn’t done the commuting math. Going in every day would mean 25 hours a week in transit. At the suggestion of a fierce friend, I proposed coming in two or three days a week–more to start, of course–and, remarkably, they accepted my offer. The role was global, so it made little difference whether I was in a webinar from NYC, from home, or a hotel or local office from Milan to Beijing. In many ways, it was a dream job; however, more than four years on the train (almost 5 hours a day when I went in) made me realize that I didn’t want to spend my life that way. My boys were then 9 and 11, and I was becoming increasingly aware that I wouldn’t have them home forever.

My next role was with a start-up that didn’t even have an office initially. Two more positions later, and I am still working from home. Hypothesis, which I joined in 2016, is 100% virtual, with folks ranging from the United Kingdom to the US West Coast. Most of our meetings are by video, which makes it easier to get to know the team quickly. We are a non-profit, mission-driven company, and being able to live where you want is a huge benefit. As a non-profit, we can hire the best talent without the Silicon Valley costs.

I’ve attended conferences recently with panels on diversity and inclusivity. Repeatedly, I put up my hand and raise the notion of utilizing remote employees to increase diversity.

Many of us are, due to family obligations or life preferences as described above, unable to relocate for a new role. That doesn’t make us less committed. Casting the hiring net wide can bring in a more diverse set of candidates and being willing to consider offsite workers may make it easier to craft that diverse workforce that will carry our industry into the future. Remote working can result in an international workforce that expands company capabilities and enriches workplace culture.

In response to my remarks, I usually I see a lot of nodding heads, but very little evidence–aside from start-ups or very senior hires who seem to command that privilege–that hiring managers are opening their minds to the possibilities. Many bosses still measure their worth by the number of folks they see when they look around the office.

Certainly, not everyone can work remotely. Some roles aren’t suited to it. Some folks aren’t interested in it. Others aren’t cut out for it. We are in many ways still an apprenticeship-like industry where you learn on your feet, and junior colleagues wouldn’t flourish as much without the opportunity to interact with more experienced colleagues. I understand that. But a diverse workforce that includes employees from underrepresented groups, that is welcoming to folks with differences and differing capabilities has benefits that make it worth consideration. There are ways to make it work. Ask me, and I’ll happily talk your ear off.