Are remote female workers facing a new gender divide?

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Could remote working be the new glass ceiling for women, contributing to gender divide? The pandemic gave businesses a crash course in remote working. And it helped many employees rethink their work-life balance. But now Covid restrictions have eased, many people are heading back to workplaces.

Figures show that more women than men are set to stay working from home, whether that’s hybrid or fully remote.

We know that remote working has now cemented itself as a powerful benefit that many employers have in their toolkit. It’s widely seen as useful when it comes to attracting and retaining staff. But could it actually widen the gender divide?

We’ve talked before about how the pandemic hit female employees the hardest. They were most likely to lose jobs in sectors hit the hardest by lockdown.

Now to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March (and UK Women’s History Month this month), we ask whether female staff who work remotely risk getting left behind their in-person male colleagues and hit a ‘Zoom ceiling’.

Beware two-track workplaces

Figures show that women still traditionally take on more primary caregiving duties and unpaid work in the home. And for many mothers, or women with caring commitments, working from home (WFH) is generally seen to be easier for family life and childcare.

But workplace experts are becoming increasingly concerned that it’s causing a two-track employment model to emerge. Workers in the office may be set to supercharge their careers faster than those working remotely.

Is Zoom the new glass ceiling for female staff?

Video meeting platforms have come on leaps and bounds in the last few years. And they’re largely responsible for so many people being able to WFH successfully during the pandemic.

Technology makes holding effective remote meetings a cinch. And when everyone is scheduled to meet up to talk, items are ticked off the list and next actions are agreed. It seems to be fulfilling the communications role perfectly, right?

But remote workers can miss out on the spontaneous moments people get in a physical workplace away from meetings, and that’s a concern. The chance meetings in the hallway, spontaneous brainstorms in the kitchen or random chats in the lift could be the moments where people’s careers really develop.

Beware of proximity bias contributing to gender divide

We all know the phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’. And research suggests that we have a more favourable view on people we see more often.

Those who work from home are simply not seen as much. They're probably getting less face-to-face time with their boss too. That could feed into not having as much recognition and not being kept in mind when it comes to promotion.

It’s something that’s existed long before the pandemic. A study in 2015 of Chinese workers found that even though people who worked from home were more productive, their in-office colleagues were promoted far more. It’s called ‘proximity bias’, and it’s something that as an employer you should be on the lookout for.

Supporting all remote workers

Keeping all employees feeling engaged and motivated is crucial. That’s whether they come to a physical workplace or are based at home.

But there are definitely some extra actions to consider to support your remote workforce, which it seems is increasingly made up of women. Try the tips we've provided in a recent blog on how to support your remote workers.

Have a formal remote work policy

Making remote working arrangements formal in a policy shows that you take remote workers and their progression seriously. It can outline what’s expected in terms of productivity and how performance will be evaluated. Plus it’s a way to establish expectations for how remote workers will communicate with in-person colleagues and management.

Frequent one-on-one meetings

Catch ups between an employee and their manager are even more important if they work from home. Our advice is to formalise these meetings to give extra chances for guidance and feedback.

Bring "workplace" chats to remote

Remote employees find that most of their interactions are mainly about work and miss out on the spontaneous chats that their in-persons get. So encouraging random non-work networking is another positive step. Have a look at online chat spaces or perhaps ‘coffee roulette’ platforms which connects employees for online coffee breaks.

Make remote working the norm

This may not suit your particular business, but one US company has asked that everyone work from home for at least one day a week. The aim of this is to ‘put home-working and office-working staff on a more equal playing field’.

Overcoming remote barriers

It’s clear that the way people work has changed for good. And with many female employees now working from home permanently, it’s about supporting them to succeed wherever they’re based.

It’s only by finding out what could be holding your remote workers back that you can prevent them taking their skills and experience elsewhere, away from the dreaded ‘Zoom ceiling’.

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