Given the social construct around the role of women as primary caregivers there is a clear gender push when it comes to choosing remote working as an option. Today, with evolved working models in place, remote/hybrid working has been a blessing for women, helping them manage work and home effectively. While it has provided tremendous flexibility to them, it is important to understand how it may have implications in terms of – lack of visibility at work, assumptions around their commitment and not to forget the missed opportunities to network and build collaborative relationships at work. How is remote working impacting careers , growth trajectory, compensation, performance ratings of women and what are its implications on the existing gender inequities? Is it a remote work penalty they are paying? A food for thought for organizations and for leaders to create a level playing field for all.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of teleworking modes by employers across the corporate world. Teleworking has allowed organisations to continue operations while protecting employees from virus exposure during lock downs and other restrictive measures implemented by governments. As the pandemic started, we often spoke of ‘Work from Home’ being the new normal and today hybrid working models have become a common feature of corporate culture, as we have started moving to a form of normalcy. These hybrid models, combine in-person work with work from home. In such a context, it is reasonable to wonder whether this trend will narrow the gender divide and help address the corporate culture of “presenteeism” that penalizes women, or whether it will worsen the existing gender inequalities. When we talk of remote working, work from home – who is more likely to engage and use these formats, men or women? What are the implications for gender? What impact will it have on their careers, growth trajectory, compensation, and performance ratings and gender pay gap?
Remote Work for Women – Is it a Mixed Blessing?
Prior to the pandemic, a small percentage of the workforce was teleworking occasionally – working from home or a location outside of the employer’s premises. According to a global survey of CIOs, prior to the pandemic, approximately 15 to 16 percent of respondents stated that their companies’ workforce worked remotely. But after a year, in March 2021, 70% of respondents were working remotely. Reports suggest in EU – in Finland, 60% of employees shifted to working from home, whereas in Italy and Austria, 40% of employees shifted to this type of work (Eurofound, 2020). As per LinkedIn Talent Solutions, in the US in 2020, 1 in 67 was in a remote job as compared to now in 2022 where 1 in 6 is in a remote job.
One of the proclaimed objectives of remote working has been to support working parents, especially mothers, and reduce gender inequalities in employment. Hence, there is a clear gender push when choosing the remote work option. Even in the hybrid working models prevalent today, women have been the ones using the WFH opportunity the most. According to a Forbes poll, 19% of women never want to return to in-person work, compared to only 7% of men. According to a recent LinkedIn survey, women are 26% more likely than men to apply for remote jobs.
Here, it is worth reviewing how the remote working trend has been impacting working women both on personal and professional front.
THE REMOTE WORK PENALTY
While on a personal front, there are compelling reasons – remote working has eased things for women giving them flexibility, making it easier for mothers to balance paid work and family responsibilities, first hand evidence clearly shows that they do a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare when compared to men. Women continue to pay motherhood penalty, for the unpaid care work they do. But the intense multitasking between these responsibilities has led to increased levels of stress, anxiety, spiked burnout rates among women which in turn has been adversely impacts their employability.
We can’t stop at the above. In the current ways of working which is a mix of remote and hybrid working models with a predominant percentage of women in fixed remote working roles we come across what we call – Remote Work Penalty which women often end up paying. This includes an array of things which the corporate culture of presenteeism brings with it and puts remote working women at a disadvantage. It important to note that these could be potential threats that can impact even men working remotely in terms of their experiences, key decisions around their compensation, performance ratings and team involvement. But women working remotely at are a higher risk of experiencing these. Let us see how.
- Assumptions round Commitment
This is the biggest challenge women face as they work remotely. Asking for accommodations like flex working specially by women is assumed to be a sign of low commitment. This lack of trust often dampens the work opportunities for women and hinder their likelihood of promotion since working from a distance could make them seem less involved.
- Lack of Visibility
Women working remotely often find it harder to showcase their achievements, find it uncomfortable to speak up, make their point or carefully listened to in virtual meetings as compared to men. They find it hard to interject and participate in conversations, meeting etc impacting their visibility in the team and organization. As per a catalyst survey, women business leaders reported its difficult to speak up in virtual meetings.
- Missed Opportunities to Network/Relationship Building
The saying out of sight, out of mind fits appropriately here. Working remotely becomes a barrier in the way of building relationships at work with co-workers and leaders. Working remotely, women miss on the opportunities to network, meet colleagues in person, develop mentors which are key as they collaborate for work and grow in the organization.
- The Power Differences
In the hybrid working model, the proximity bias or the face time bias as it is called, often creates power differences between those in office and those working virtually, in terms of allocation of work responsibilities, influence and decision making. Again, women working virtually, find themselves mostly at a disadvantage here.
Creating a Level Playing Field
Organizations and leaders need to reflect on how they can create a level playing field for employees working virtually or otherwise. They need to be intentional about how they view the hybrid workplace and at the same time be mindful of the drawbacks of remote working.
Certain tweaks in current practices at work can make a huge difference. For example, it could be in terms of how performance reviews are taken, team meetings are conducted or avenues for communication provided or reviewing expectations set around remote working – focusing on productivity rather that hours logged.
Leaders should go out of their way to ensure that a two-layer workforce is not created in which in-person employees have greater access to special projects, raises, and promotions. And organizations need to bring in policies that can support leaders create that inclusive and equitable ecosystem in a remote/hybrid working model.