April 29, 2022
The pandemic has brought with it many different trials and tribulations over the course of the past few years. An area that has impacted teams across the country, and the world, has been working from home and other forms of remote work. Once a necessity imposed by the UK government to stop the spread in the early stages of the pandemic, it has now become a part of working life for many people in many different sectors. It has offered many employees the new luxury of time: no commutes resulting in more time to spend with family and friends and creating a better work-life balance.
Though there’s no denying that hybrid models can facilitate better work-life balance, staying on the side of remote work can have limitations no matter the employee age or gender. Whilst remote working has its perks, networking and engaging within the office are essential to forming close relationships with mentors, bettering learning with heads up collaboration to spark off ideas, and opens doors to new opportunities. If a company is hindering any employee’s career progression based solely off working remotely, then this suggests there is something not right about the company and the way leadership manage staff through evolving work models.
Women working from home
What’s more, there is a side to working from home that has seen more negative impacts – particularly for women. Catherine Mann, a Bank of England policymaker, warned that women who work mostly from home risk hurting their careers and getting caught in a “she-cession” as more men are returning to office working post-pandemic. She argued that virtual working methods, such as video conferencing, were unable to replicate spontaneous office conversations that are important to career advancement.
Catherine Mann isn’t alone in this school of thought. In 2020, research suggested that women left the workforce in droves in the first few months of the pandemic – at four times the rate of men. Some left voluntarily and others were pushed out.
Unfortunately the female trend for virtual working comes as little surprise given women are burning out and overloaded with office housework, otherwise known as “invisible labour” that goes unrecognised. On top of this, virtual working is not necessarily a preference, where there is often little choice in the matter when it comes to managing childcare and other caring duties, as statistics show stress and burnout is affecting working mothers more than working fathers.
Creating an inclusive culture
Such gender imbalances risk exacerbating the gender gap. With that said, I urge leadership to address this imbalance by analysing cultural structures and company policies, particularly in regard to parental leave. Shared Parental Leave is a government-led legislation that was introduced in 2015 to provide husbands and partners the legal right to divide responsibilities as well as paid time-off work. Encourage teams to utilise this as well as challenge stigmas attached to men requesting flexible working to care for children – these are a great first step.
Normalising what shared responsibility of parenthood looks like will take time. But in the immediate, it begins with speaking openly about how working patterns and schedules need to flex around childcare. Encouraging senior male flexible working role models to share their story and lead by example when it comes to balancing childcare is a wise place to start.
The pandemic has amplified gender imbalances across sectors, particularly in those where working from home has been a possibility. Action must be taken now before habits are formed and changes are irreversibly made. This is a very real challenge to company cultures and an issue which business leaders – of all genders – need to confront. By listening to female employees, leadership can make well-informed, impactful decisions to ensure female working environments are a supportive space that bolsters their excellence and excels their careers – whilst creating a long-lasting, strong company culture.