The ‘return to work’ conversation is still very prevalent in the UK after COVID-19 restrictions have been removed once again, and Britain’s business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has even encouraged people to get back to the office in a bid to “get back to some degree of normality”.
However, it seems that the way we work has changed for good – and 79% of business leaders believe that people will never return to offices at the same rate as pre-pandemic.
For women in particular, the ability to work remotely and flexibly has had a significant impact. The pandemic started fresh conversations about childcare, for example, a responsibility disproportionately taken on by women. 80% of women also ranked remote working as a top job benefit – this figure drops to 69% for men.
While remote working can support women to balance other responsibilities, there is also a concern that being away from the office might result in an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ culture – leading to fewer promotions and salary increases for women and it could widen the gender wage gap.
With this in mind, four female technology experts discuss their experiences of remote working, gender equality and advice for other women navigating the changing world of work.
The benefits of remote working for women
The sudden move to remote working during the pandemic led to a shift in priorities for many employees. “What I see as its greatest benefits are flexibility, sense of freedom, and being able to manage personal time more effectively”, said Aleksandra Majkic, IT business development professional.
“I am not only referring to hours spent commuting, but also long meetings, sometimes imposed work dinners. To me, the ability to make my own plans, spend time with my family, support kids as they’ve both started school, and having that sense of freedom is irreplaceable.”
Design strategist Cecilia LeJeune, who moved from a flat in the suburbs with almost two hours of commute per day to a house with a garden and zero commute, agrees with finding this sense of freedom: “Remote work also means freedom to organize your day as you wish, to focus on deep work when you want, or to work at unusual hours.”
These benefits of remote working may also be a retention tool for many businesses going forward. As Alice Meredith, senior HR professional and culture strategist, argued: “It allows employees the opportunity to learn new skills, better integrate work and life responsibilities and gives employees increased autonomy in their day-to-day work responsibilities.”
With the ‘Great Resignation‘ underway, people are looking for job roles that offer flexibility and more opportunities. The ability to work remotely whilst balancing work and personal lives will likely be a big draw for many female employees.
Closing the gender gap
Remote working can also help level the playing field between genders. Shelley Benhoff, Sitecore MVP, explains that “a woman’s presence in person tends to be diminished in comparison to men. But when you’re remote, your physicality isn’t really in the equation”.
LeJeune echoed this, saying that “remote work allows for depersonalization in interactions. Judgments and bias introduced by your look and clothing are erased, which can count as a benefit for a lot of women.”
Meredith, a mother juggling six children and a full-time career, also highlighted how remote working will continue to help balance the caregiving workload between parents. “A father who works remotely can take on more responsibility and vice versa. In addition, this opportunity to better balance family responsibilities can create more time and availability for career pursuits for both parents, regardless of their gender.”
Remote working does also pose a potential risk to women’s career progression. Majkic says that remote workers are sometimes perceived as “out of sight, out of mind” and are more likely to be overlooked for promotions, raises and bonuses than on-site employees.
She continues: “There is already a new term – Zoom ceiling (coined by Elora Voyles, people scientist) that has become the new ‘glass ceiling’.
“To overcome this, remote working policies need to be formalized and leaders must ensure equality for all meetings – for example, by making sure remote attendees can dial-in to in-person meetings with a quality camera and audio.”
Advice to remote working women
Remote work can offer lots of benefits for women, but it may still pose challenges too. For example, collaborative tools may seem daunting for women who are using them in remote settings for the first time, but Meredith recommends that women be vocal about their work – regardless of where they work from. “Make sure to share what you’re working on with your team, and be proud of your achievements.”
Meredith also emphasizes the importance of taking advantage of working remotely, and to “use any additional time to participate in skill and professional development opportunities and volunteer for projects that interest you and stretch your abilities.”
For Majkic, communication with superiors is a key factor. She suggests “scheduling regular meetings or brief talks to maintain and improve business relationships and make sure that your leader knows your achievements, expectations, struggles, and progress you are making.”
She says that as performance reviews can happen less often when everyone is working remotely, it’s important to ask for one-to-one feedback sessions on a regular basis. “We have to take initiative and be proactive in our workplaces and communities.”
As hybrid working models look set to become the norm, there is a new opportunity for women to balance their career with their personal life in a way that hasn’t been possible in the past.
However, there are possible challenges too, around visibility and opportunities. Frequent and clear communication, and formalized policies for flexible working will be key to overcoming this.
All four women interviewed for this piece are authors at Pluralsight.
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