The Hybrid Workplace: A Catalyst for Gender Equality?

woman working from home with child
Sofia Imtiaz Salesforce Consultant
Sofia Imtiaz

As we’ve come out the COVID-19 pandemic, we are faced with a work landscape that is vastly different to what office-based employees were used to pre-pandemic. Flexible working has become a commonplace new reality and for a lot of workers socialising with co-workers in the office kitchen, or commutes are a distant memory.

Initial research shows that women now face bigger barriers than ever before, even though flexible working and the hybrid office have brought in new perspectives on how and where people work.

State of women in the workforce around the world

Around the world, 39% of the workforce is made up of women however research published in 2020 by McKinsey found that throughout the pandemic women would make up 54% of overall job losses and that their jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to disruption.

One reason for that disparity was the increased burden of unpaid care, which is still disproportionately undertaken by women. A further McKinsey report in 2021 found that three groups experienced some of the largest challenges: women in senior management positions, working mothers, and black women. This was especially true for women with children under 10; women that belonged to this group considered leaving the workforce at a rate that was 10% higher than men.

The tech sector was not immune to the pressures the pandemic brought on, however a report published by Deloitte in December showed that due to the flexible nature of the industry and its ability to quickly adapt to remote work, female job losses were kept to a minimum. That factor, together with the fact that the tech industry saw recovery earlier than most other industries, meant that companies were able to maintain progress in gender equality- particularly those companies that had workforce diversity pledges and pre-existing commitments to diversity.

Even so, a report by Skillsoft, 2021 Women in Tech Report showed that there still is an obvious gap between the workplace benefits women in tech need and want and what organisations provide. When it comes to professional development and training, 86% of women surveyed said that it’s extremely or highly important to them. However, only 42% of those surveyed said that their current employers offer that benefit. Furthermore, nearly a third of women said that a lack of training was one of the top challenges they have faced in their careers.

Will hybrid work benefit women in tech?

One of the biggest barriers to women entering the workforce has been trying to balance the burden of care with having to spend five days a week in an office environment. With the advent of remote and hybrid work models the equation has changed. Now the workforce is open to people who in the past may have been excluded because they weren’t able to physically be in the office.

There have been several surveys and research that have shown that the majority of workers want to be able to work from home in some form, and some of them even saying they’d resign or take a pay cut to do so.

City & Guilds conducted research that found that when looking for a new role, 53% of women that are of working age in the UK prioritised flexibility, as opposed to 38% of men. Furthermore, 65% of women said a good work-life balance is highly important, while only 57% of men felt the same.

Even though greater access to a more diverse talent pool is gained by offering flexible work options, businesses need to do so with clear boundaries and expectations as female employees could be negatively impacted. This can happen if flexible work is turned into “always on” work. The Women in The Workplace 2021 study by McKinsey found that more than 33% of women felt like they had to be available for work 24/7 and almost half felt they needed to work long hours to get ahead.

This is a problem that has been amplified especially among working mothers. They’ve always worked a so called “double-shift”, even before the pandemic, having to do a full day of work and then hours at home doing household work and caring for children.

The study also found that throughout the pandemic women were far more likely to suffer burnout than men. The gap in burnout between men and women almost double and in the last year alone, one in three women considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce all together.

Proximity Bias

Burnout isn’t the only big challenge that underrepresented groups are facing. Proximity bias (where working from the office is seen as a better career move) is a big issue as well. The Future Forum Pulse report by Slack, found that 79% of women work in the office all or some of the time compared to 84% of men. When it came to working parents 75% of them worked remotely or in a hybrid capacity, while 63% of non-parents did the same.

But what can companies do to make these habits of “out of sight, out of mind” disappear? They should make sure that all staff members feel like they have the same equal opportunities to engage and communicate with colleagues. This can help reduce the stigma around those working remotely.

It’s important that companies focus on providing ‘parity of experience’ for their employees, and many technology companies are focused on building the software and hardware tools to make sure that happens.

Tech that uses AI to look for bias is evolving and getting better at making sure that there are broader candidate pools for jobs. This tech can also help ensure policies don’t exclude people or impact them in a disproportionate way.

Currently there are expectations for employers to improve employee experience and the experience of underrepresented minorities and women is at the top of the priority list. The systemic issues need to be addressed by employers and using the technologies available might mitigate the broader challenges we are facing.

Want to read more? How To Attract and Retain Female Tech Talent