Remote work has been a hot topic in the business world since 2020 when it suddenly became the new “normal” for millions of employees all over the world who spent several weeks in lockdown due to the global Covid pandemic. Articles and analyses about remote work and hybrid work have flourished, to discuss the opportunities and constraints that these new ways of working create for employees, leaders, and organizations.
Gender inequalities highlighted and worsened due to last-minute remote work
It soon became clear that the pandemic had a negative impact on gender equality in the workplace, with working women suffering from more constraints than men during the lockdowns. A few figures coming from France tell us that only 25% of women working from home during the lockdown had a room for themselves vs. 41% of men; 44 % of women with kids below 16 years old said that they could not work in a calm environment vs. 31% of men; due to the lack of proper ergonomic workstation, 50% of women developed musculoskeletal problems vs. 35% of men. Unplanned remote work, as it happened during the lockdowns and pandemic crisis, highlighted and reinforced gender inequalities at work.
Working from home might increase the challenges
As most employees aspire to flexible work schedules and the possibility to work from home, research has started looking at the impact of remote work on forces at play at work and in society for men and women. It shows that remote work can worsen existing inequalities if not paid attention to and addressed. Many women appreciate remote work for the flexibility that they get to handle household matters; however, it can widen the gap between men’s and women’s involvement in family care and household chores, leaving women more exhausted as they face increased difficulties to separate professional and personal time. Another drawback for women working from home is that they might miss informal information and related opportunities; as women often spend less time than men networking outside office hours, not showing up in the office might prevent them from knowing the latest news, be it interesting projects coming up or career opportunities. Finally, remote work also contributes to the invisibilization of women: Interruptions, “bropropriation” (the appropriation of a woman’s ideas and/or work by a male colleague), and sexism intensify when women work remotely.
Take action: Anticipate and correct the possible impact on gender inequalities
If you are committed to building a culture of equality in your organization, implementing remote work must include looking at its possible consequences on gender inequalities. First, indicators must be put in place to measure the impact of remote work from a gender perspective, especially when it comes to workload and work hours. Second, options must be available for employees to work in the office if they want to, or to have access to a coworking space. Third, leaders and managers are key in the fight against gender inequalities: They must be aware of the specific risks raised by remote work and accompanied in setting up the conditions for everybody in the organization to feel heard and valued. In the end, these measures will benefit women and men.