(...but that won’t stop us from trying)
TL;DR: Remote Year has not always achieved our goal of creating diverse communities and inclusive spaces, and recognize that we need to play a stronger role in cultivating that. You can and should expect more from us, and we welcome your voice to the conversation.
We are writing today to acknowledge and respond to experiences, including incidents and microaggressions, on Remote Year programs that have been shared by Remote Year participants from marginalized groups. For those who have shared their experiences, we want you to know we see you, we hear you, we appreciate you, and your experience matters. We believe that acknowledging these accounts will help create room for necessary dialogue about race, diversity and inclusion, and the role Remote Year can play in cultivating that dialogue. As a global work and travel company, we have created a platform for thousands of participants to live, work, travel, and connect with people around the world. Our mission is to create a more peaceful and productive world by fostering genuine human connections across diverse cultures and people. Throughout the last 3.5 years of pursuing our mission, we have learned that diversity and inclusion are not only important, but absolutely critical, to achieving our mission.
While we have made progress, we have much further to go. In this post, we want to provide transparency on our journey by sharing more about the initiatives we’ve prioritized to improve diversity and inclusion and our vision for the work left ahead. We hope that doing so will facilitate a dialogue that will help us improve our ability to foster respectful, supportive, and inclusive communities and experiences.
First, we acknowledge that despite our intent to bring together diverse communities and bring them to places that welcome that diversity, we have not always achieved this. We launched first to a North American audience, and thus, our program demographics do skew towards White and/or American. As we’ve expanded our presence to five continents, we’ve seen the mix of nationalities, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and ages shift to reflect a global audience. This is moving in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.
As we bring our communities around the world, we acknowledge that the experience for participants from marginalized groups, are unique and challenging. We were disheartened to hear of our participants being harassed or targeted specifically for being Black, of color, LGBTQ, or female. We saw how the burden of dealing with microaggressions and educating others in each community most often fell (quite unfairly) on the shoulders of those from marginalized groups. We saw how participants from marginalized groups were reluctant to speak up due to the fear of being labeled “divisive”, “angry”, or “overly sensitive”, often feeling pressure to “keep the peace” at the expense of their own well-being and comfort. We questioned what Remote Year’s role should be, and even can be, when participants experience a harrowing incident or conversation in places, experiences, or cities not affiliated with Remote Year. In reality, Remote Year is a microcosm of the world we live in and the same people who live with the struggles of being Black back home may find those struggles exacerbated on the road in unfamiliar environments among other travelers who don’t understand their struggles and lived experience. LGTBQ participants who found it tough to navigate being LGBTQ back home may find it even more challenging being in a foreign country with different norms around gender and sexuality. Women may find it challenging and exhausting to fend off unwanted attention in many places around the world. We know there are other groups that have also been marginalized and targeted and, this, in no way, minimizes those stories or people. One of our challenges as a company is figuring out how to address these issues and accompanying feelings of discomfort, and we haven’t always gotten it right.
Second, we realize that change must start at the top, that the entire company must mirror the world we want to exist in, and that we are just part way through this journey. This past year, we promoted 21 people: 67% were women, 48% were non-American, and 19% were people of color. Among the leadership team, we grew our representation of women to 45% and people of color to 9%. Across our global teams that most closely interact with our clients, we have significantly grown our diversity. Today, 77% of our Program Leaders leading each community around the world are women, 54% are non-American, and 15% are people of color. Encouragingly, 97% of our local teams responsible for delivering the local experience for our customers are natives of the diverse communities, cities and countries on our itineraries. Across our company, we have representation of LGBTQ communities and of various faiths including Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist among many others. These numbers have improved since we launched, but we are the first to admit that our work is not done here. We need to see more diversity across a variety of vectors, especially at the leadership and management levels.
Third, we acknowledge that diversity and inclusion won’t happen by itself and we need to play a stronger role in cultivating that on our programs. Last year, we launched a survey across our team and customers to solicit their feedback on diversity & inclusion within Remote Year. The results were eye-opening and fueled a lot of the progress mentioned to date.
We started by revamping all of our city content, including City Guides and City Welcome Presentations to include helpful information for all participants, with a focus on marginalized groups, to understand social contexts and norms that could impact them while traveling. We also screened our global recommendations to ensure that we were not promoting places and partners that had a track record of sexism, racism, or other non-inclusive views. Although we cannot fully control the possibility of encountering bigoted and racist people, we did want to help people prepare for the realities and varying cultural norms of the places we visit.
We know that change requires time, money, and effort and have continued shifting more of our programming budget towards enriching experiences that foster learning, growth, giving back and connectedness. Today, 75% of our programming budget is allocated to delivering cultural and local immersion experiences. To complement that, we launched an initiative to highlight global holidays and traditions to help educate people and celebrate more inclusive stories around the world. These can be found on our Remote Year blog.
The biggest and most challenging area we have been working on is educating and training our teams and communities on how to create and foster a more inclusive culture. A few months ago, we launched the first company-wide mandatory training on Implicit and Unconscious Bias led by an external professional in the field. We also conducted a mandatory training on our Code of Conduct principles and processes for all client-facing staff. Both of these trainings were received well by our staff and we have been preparing to extend more trainings to our staff and participants this year that target diversity and inclusion.
For all of the above, we appointed a leadership team member to drive these initiatives forward and reviewed the progress weekly in leadership team meetings. Looking back, we regret that all of our efforts were not always visible to our participants and all staff. We have never published the numbers and details behind our initiatives, but are doing so today as part of a concerted effort to transparently share our work in progress and to emphasize that this is a key priority for us and will continue as such.
So what’s ahead for us on this journey? We have just begun and hope that a year from now, we can look back and share even more positive changes that underscore our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Here’s a few things we have in mind or that are already in progress:
Additionally, we need to reiterate, more firmly, that we do NOT tolerate any discrimination or harassment of any kind on Remote Year programs, and we are changing our approach to make that even more clear. One of our early learnings was that we are bringing together communities of people with very different life experiences and backgrounds, and that we needed to clarify our expectations of Remote Year participants and staff. So, in 2016, we created a mandatory Code of Conduct to do just that, and we’ve been updating it regularly ever since to reflect new learnings. We sought input from passionate Remotes and Citizens while drafting the Code of Conduct and creating the Code of Conduct orientation video. We’ve hired 3rd party professionals, CuraHR, to help us assess Code of Conduct violations objectively and with care. We require all participants to read and acknowledge the Code, and we review it together during program orientation. We’ve built processes for reporting issues and are in the process of creating mandatory training for people involved in Code of Conduct issues. Our Code of Conduct clearly states our company’s stance below:
Remote Year is committed to ensuring the respect and tolerance of diverse groups of individuals. In fact, our values include community, empathy, and global perspective. As such, and to help ensure a safe and productive environment, participants, ... staff, and staff of partnering organizations are expected to behave in accordance with this Code of Conduct...We expect Remotes and staff to act with the values of respect and tolerance in mind when interacting with each other and the world at large… You are expected to alert Remote Year whenever an illegal or unethical act is discovered or suspected. No one will be subject to retaliation for a good faith report of a suspected violation.
However, upon reflection, there are a few things we noticed that need to change. First, we expect all participants to embody the values in our Code of Conduct, but because that’s not always the case, we’re going to roll out the additional training we spoke of before. Second, we shouldn’t wait for someone who has experienced a negative experience to report something to us. In some instances, we hear of a Code of Conduct violation when a participant shares their thoughts publicly without reporting it to us first. This caused us to realize that many of these issues have gone unchecked because they were unreported in written form to us and, thus, did not trigger an automatic investigation. Starting this month, we are changing our policies to mandate that our staff on the ground file a report and escalate all issues of discrimination or harassment to trigger an automatic investigation, even if the people involved did not file a report. We want to do this the right way, so will complement this policy change with the right training so that our team knows which issues qualify for immediate escalation. We will thoroughly investigate any claims with CuraHR.
Diversity and inclusion is a long journey and as a 3.5 year old startup, we are still growing on this journey. Our staff and partners around the world work hard to exceed our customers’ expectations every day and to deliver a platform that enables people to change the possibilities in their own lives and ways. Today, we are publicly declaring that we want to make that platform more inclusive. We believe we are taking meaningful steps towards that path, but want to say to all of our customers that trust us enough to come on a life-changing journey with us: you can and should expect more from us.
If you’d like to contribute to the efforts, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. All messages will be read by our leadership team. We appreciate your feedback and are committed to doing better with your collective help.