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Culture of Contracts research results: Making digital agreements more inclusive

11/16/2021 | 08:57am EDT
Culture of Contracts research results: Making digital agreements more inclusive

In the era of remote and hybrid work, the way we handle day-to-day tasks and collaborate with our colleagues digitally are key indicators of office environments. Workplace culture has become less defined by in-person interactions and more apparent in virtual workflows and team building. In the world of documents, e-signatures have become the currency of business productivity. In Adobe Sign, for example, the number of digitally signed agreements increased 17x over the past two years.

To investigate the culture behind digital interactions, Adobe surveyed 1,400 enterprise workers across the U.S., U.K., and Australia to understand what is and isn't working in digital agreements. Their responses reveal an opportunity to improve equity and take an inclusive approach to digital representation in the workplace.

Barriers in managing agreements

Digital agreements are a good representation of employee interactions because they often require three to four personnel to sign, according to our survey. But there's an opportunity to invite more diverse perspectives to the process. Male enterprise workers (88 percent) are more likely than women to be a necessary signatory for a document (82 percent). They're often the final signatory for a document or agreement compared to women as well (75 percent vs. 61 percent).

Receiving input from coworkers can also be challenging for women and minority* workers. The average employee spends about 83 minutes chasing down signatures, with an average of three follow ups, and eight days to finalize an agreement. Women report spending an average of 27 more minutes than men to secure signatures. In the U.S., it takes underrepresented minority* (URM) employees six more minutes than non-URM employees to chase down signatures.

Organizations can help improve inclusivity by establishing more policies around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). While two-thirds of employees have signed a code of conduct or workplace rules agreement, only half have signed a non-discrimination or DEI policy. "I think it would be great to recognize the individuals signing contracts and their cultures, which may change and not align with a given policy," said one respondent.

Ushering inclusivity and authenticity into contract language

Negative aspects of workplace culture extend beyond process and collaboration to language itself. More than one in three employees has observed gender-binary language, meaning language that only references two genders, in workplace digital agreements. Twenty-five percent have also seen limited fields or options to authentically describe themselves, such as their race, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, ability, or disability.

Some workers (16 percent) have even seen inappropriate, outdated, or incorrect language listed for recipients to describe themselves. In the U.S., more underrepresented minority workers have noticed limited options or fields (31 percent vs. 23 percent) or incorrect language (23 percent vs. 12 percent) in digital agreements compared to non-underrepresented minority employees.

Today's workforce would like changes. More than half want more options to authentically describe themselves or less gender-binary language. One survey respondent said, "the world is changing, and our company agrees with bringing your whole self to work. The use of less gender-binary language would assist associates in feeling more supported."

Enterprise workers would also like more options to break digital agreements if they didn't align with their political views (42 percent) or religious beliefs (41 percent). Men especially would like more political (44 percent vs. 39 percent) and religious (45 percent vs. 36 percent) related opportunities to break agreements than women.

"If I'm reviewing a document I'm supposed to sign and I see something that can put me or anybody else in my company at risk I should have the right to break that agreement," said one respondent.

Empowering an inclusive digital environment

More than 80 percent of employees feel that digital agreements help them meet their deadlines and work goals, focus on important tasks, and become an independent worker. Most would prefer to sign agreements digitally post-COVID-19, even personal documents like child-care agreements (64 percent) or paperwork for doctor's visits (63 percent). In Adobe Sign, 69 percent of e-signatures are signed within a day and only require an average of 1.5 signatures in the Americas.

While the value of digital agreements is undeniable, organizations have an opportunity to evolve and modernize language and processes, so they remove dated terms and ultimately bias. In addition to championing workplace training around these topics, there are a few ways organizations can embrace more modern guideposts when crafting business agreements:

  • Include gender neutral language to avoid gender binary phrases. For example, swapping "chairman" for "board member." Watch out for gender assumption such as "the teacher shared her apple."
  • Use inclusive or preferred personal pronouns to identify participants without assuming gender. Check participant email signatures since it is becoming more common for employees include their preference. If their preference hasn't been established, use an inclusive personal pronoun instead, like they/their. The proper way to use they/their singularly is ze/hir. Used in a sentence, it would read, "the participant provided hir signature."
  • Use preferred language when referring to people. This can include people-first language, meaning referencing a person before their trait. For example, "the person with a disability." Identity-first language is another option that leads with a person's descriptor, such as "disabled person." There are benefits to each, which is why it's important to learn an individual's preference. If there isn't an opportunity to ask for preference, the two can be used interchangeably.
  • Include more options. To create more inclusive agreements, be thoughtful about how and why demographic questions are being asked. Consider the diversity of participants and determine what would appropriately help them describe themselves. For example, only including male and female on a form doesn't accommodate those that identify as transgender. Adding an "other" option that allows employees to write in their identifier is another best practice. Before asking respondents to verify their demographics, first explain why those details are required to make participants feel more comfortable.
  • Ensure digital documents are accessible, meaning employees with disabilities can access, read, use, and sign documents and forms across multiple languages. Start by checking digital tools used in the document management process and determining available, or missing, accessibility features.

Businesses are progressing toward digital-first workplaces, but there's an opportunity to take modernization one step further beyond technology. By providing employees more opportunities to authentically describe themselves, and helping set best practices when collaborating digitally, leaders and workers can continue to grow as an organization.

*Underrepresented minorities (URM) in the U.S. are those who identify as Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx, Native American, Pacific Islander, and/or two or more races)


Adobe Inc. published this content on 16 November 2021 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 16 November 2021 13:56:02 UTC.

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