How Zoom Has Become a Tool for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

April 13, 2022 Maddie Grant

Zoom has emerged as the shining star of the pandemic, keeping businesses, well, in business and allowing employees to keep working from home.  Which can also have downsides – see our post about Zoom fatigue –  but here’s another thing for you to think about – the unexpected effect of Zoom as a tool for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Here are just a few ways Zoom can help with DE&I, based on actual anecdotal conversations with my clients and various friends and colleagues:

Zoom can create a safe space.

As you know, we’re working with a bunch of organizations on their return to the office / hybrid plans, and most of them are finding that their staff are reluctant to come back.  Wonder why? Beyond the obvious, that you can’t really compete with the comfort of home, many people have told me that they feel safer at home. Are you shocked? If you’re a white dude, you might not ever think about this – but the journey to and from work, especially in the evening when it’s dark, can be unsafe for women. Walking through a dark parking garage, for example. And even in the office, being IN A MEETING ROOM can feel unsafe. Especially if you’re unlucky enough to be a woman working in a male-dominated industry. This doesn’t mean we actually fear that something might happen (although, tell that to anyone who’s experienced a #metoo moment) – but it does mean that the “distance” created by Zoom and an online meeting has eliminated for many of us that underlying sense of unease that can come from sitting in meeting rooms with a lot of men.

Zoom can level the playing field from a size/stature perspective.

You’re going to chuckle at this, but speaking from the perspective of a short Asian woman, it’s gratifying to be in online meetings where nobody can tell that I’m so small.  I can own my space, and show off my own expertise without people thinking (unconscious bias, hello) that I’m less experienced or smart  because I’m short, female, young(-ish) looking, etc.  A friend of mine is the CEO of a 50-person company that has grown a lot in the past 2 years because they happen to be in the virtual conference business, and she told me that she would NEVER have got the respect she deserves if her staff were not 100% remote – because she is tiny and looks very young. When everyone’s head is just about the same size in a Zoom window, that equalizes the playing field – whereas in-person, it’s very easy for the tallest (and whitest/malest…) folks to crowd out the smallest.

See also  What to do about Zoom Fatigue

Zoom helps reduce interruptions by more dominant people.

Speaking of leveling the playing field, have you noticed that it’s a little bit harder for people to interrupt each other on Zoom?  As a woman, I have both experienced and witnessed men interrupting women and speaking over them, but I see it less on Zoom.  Now obviously interrupting behavior is still technically possible – and as a quick mind, I personally have to stop myself from interrupting slower speakers before they are done – but it’s definitely easier to make sure everyone is heard. And if you’re lucky enough to work somewhere that enforces some Zoom etiquette, e.g. where you have to raise your hand and be called on in order, then you may find that interruptions by dominant people have almost ceased completely.

Zoom is great for introverts.

Speaking of dominant people, or rather the opposite, if you’re an introvert you probably love the fact that on Zoom you can much more easily participate and make your point without the energy drain of being a vocal participant.  Maybe by raising your hand when you’re ready to speak, or by commenting in the chat rather than having to unmute/come on video. Or even by posting your question in the Q&A and getting the answers you need afterward and not needing to interact at all!

See also  Are Your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts Working?

Zoom provides equal access to a VIP speaker.

Another unexpected benefit of all of this is something I have observed many times with my own eyes – the ability for anyone to ask a question of a presenter or speaker.  I’ve worked with several scientific and medical organizations where there is such a strong sense of hierarchy that it can be intimidating and difficult for younger people to ask questions of a VIP speaker during a presentation, even at the end during the Q&A. But in Zoom, all questions come in as equally valid regardless of who they come from – and they are either answered in the order that they were asked, or the most relevant to the topic are selected without bias as to who asked them.

Zoom has tools for accessibility.

Captions, zooming in and out, transcripts… you name it.

Zoom provides ways to reduce bias related to the physical space we are in.

Working remotely has obvious downsides – if you live in a house full of other people, for example. But Zoom provides easy ways to blur your background or add a completely different background to mask what’s visible.

So those are just off the top of my head, and are examples of UNEXPECTED effects of using Zoom on a regular basis. Which makes me think, what if we were more intentional about using Zoom in these ways, SPECIFICALLY for diversity, equity and inclusion? What other ways might we come up with that would make the use of Zoom an even greater benefit to how successful our organizations are? What do you think?

Photo by Rod Long

Maddie Grant

Maddie Grant, CAE, is an expert culture designer and digital strategist who focuses on helping organizations unlock the power in their culture and navigate culture change. She has specific expertise in digital transformation and generational differences in the workplace. She has explored the language of workplace culture for several years through her books, co-authored with her partner in business and life Jamie Notter, including Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World (2011), the Amazon category best-seller When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business (2015) and the Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement (2019).
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