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Conquering the Digital Divide

 

Conquering the Digital Divide

Technology – By Katie Ocheltree

Closing gaps and inequities can lead to greater training ROI

The digital divide is an intercontinental problem. It’s not solely based on insufficient access to the most up-todate technology as a result of fiscal misfortune, but rather the ignorance to such need from industry leaders.

The cascades of such a digital divide involve skills and political participation, as well as the obvious economics. With 1.2 billion students not in school, a 77% increase in online spending from May 2019, and a projected increase of medical general care visits from 36 million visits in 2020 to 200 million visits in 2021, it is perspicuous that the novel COVID-19 virus has magnified the inequity of today’s society.

As AMA Immediate Past President Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A., said, “COVID-19 did not cause all of the issues that we’re seeing now, particularly other ones around health disparities and health inequities, but certainly it has revealed them in ways we simply cannot ignore.”

Understanding the aggregated technological impact on civic life during a global pandemic is enervating work. However, obvious discrepancies persist when discussing the digital divide and virtual inequities within the life sciences workplace.

In today’s virtual society, inequities are being magnified within communities of practice. Awareness around such an omnipresent issue needs to result in a paradigm shift to increase equity within life sciences careers.

To do so, organizational leaders must reconceptualize the challenges of today’s  digital divide and virtual inequities. By implementing simple empathy-centered practices in the workplace and training, the life sciences training-related fields help magnify a goal of increasing equity and decreasing the digital divide during and after a global pandemic.

Without sufficient prerequisites required to function in the present virtual society, non-digital natives (generations before millennials) may continue to struggle to capitalize on technology’s potential within the workplace. In professions like those on the life sciences spectrum (such as pharmaceuticals, medical research, contract  research and government agencies), proper professional development around technology utilization is pivotal in the success of the entire business. Understanding that a one-size-fits-all mentality in the workplace is non-responsive to the unique needs of each individual employee, therefore, systemic adjustments can be made to improve equity within the workplace — like flexible work hours and display of mastery — while having minimal to no fiscal cost to the employer.

Healthy Boundaries

When undergoing a large-scale change, like trying to conquer the digital divide during a global pandemic, one must possess empathy and understanding. This can be done by cultivating an environment that allows employees to set healthy boundaries between work and home.

This is monumental work that will take activism and time. However, there are research-based strategies that high-quality leaders can implement immediately to break down equity-based barriers during this unprecedented time and after:

1. Provide Training and Technology Needed to Work Remotely.

It is critical for employers to provide all employees with necessary equipment to engage meaningfully in their work offsite. Providing staff with proper digital equipment allows them to have access to the tools required to excel in their role from alternative locations.

The Federal Communications Commission reports that an estimated 19
million Americans do not have access to the appropriate broadband.
Therefore, including multiple internet connectivity options like hotspots,
Internet provider bill supplements or developing relationships with service
providers for discounts allows for equitable access to a necessary service.
Along with providing the physical assets, providing differentiated training on
such equipment allows for agebias inequities within the digital divide to be
dismantled.

2. Provide Options for Work Hours and Participation.

Providing varying work hours outside of the traditional 9-to-5 demonstrates empathy and understanding during this transformational time. With flexible work hours, employees can juggle home-life necessities without feeling the stress to meet compliance, rather than engaging in meaningful completion.  Employers can set timelines that are attainable while being responsive to the needs of each individual situation.

Another way to be culturally responsive is to provide multiple ways of engagement. A low-cost way to do this is to deliver prerecorded trainings with outcome measures.

By providing your employees with a choice-board of activities to demonstrate mastery, individual strengths are acknowledged, while still ensuring the training is completed with fidelity. E-learning methods of training require 40% to 60% less time to obtain the desired learning objectives. Therefore, partaking in this culturally responsive method of training has a direct return on investment to companies.

3. Create Physically and Culturally Inviting Environments.

When in a virtual setting, it is nearly impossible to separate work life from home life, resulting in the assumption that all people feel comfortable “welcoming” others into their home, which is not the case. By fostering physically and culturally inviting environments, cultural competencies are subconsciously strengthening, leaving little room for unconscious biases and microaggression reinforcement. Some easy ways to create an environment of
equity within the digital workplace are:

    • Start meetings with a “check-in” to show empathy.
    • Allow participants to keep their cameras off.
    • Mute all participants when not speaking.
    • Refrain from practicing coldcalling participation techniques.
    • Ask others to volunteer experiences or opinions regarding similar content based on personal experiences.
    • Identify barriers and actions to overcome barriers that are inclusive to all stakeholders.

By practicing these strategies, you are minimizing the mandate to “welcome” others into the home of your employee.

Conclusion

The life sciences field must work closely with industry, government and academia to shape public policy and improve access to innovative technologies for the current workforce and generations to come. By providing technological resources and access to quality training on using such technology, by providing flexibility in work hours and participation methods, and by minimizing the requirement to “welcome” colleagues into others’ home lives, increased equity is met with culturally responsive practices, leading to a culture of empathy and understanding.


Katie Ocheltree is cofounder of Education Innovations Southeast. Email Katie at
katie.ocheltree22@gmail.com.

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