Could the Hybrid World Dim Women's Career Prospects?
The return to the office on a wide scale continues to be pushed back – first by the delta variant and more recently by omicron – but it’s looking more and more likely that many office workers will be spending more time at their old desks next year.
The hybrid work model, though, will continue to be used in many parts of the business world, prompting deeper studies and examinations into how working from home on a semi-regular basis could impact their careers. And at least one expert in London warns it might not work out well for women.
Bank of England policymaker Catherine Mann, speaking at an event for women in finance last month, noted that as workers return to the office, women who continue to work from home may find their careers begin to stall.
"Virtual platforms are way better than they were even five years ago, but the extemporaneous, spontaneity - those are hard to replicate in a virtual setting," she said.
Those comments dovetail with Deloitte’s global Women @ Work survey, which found that 51% of women are less optimistic about their career prospects today than they were prior to the onset of COVID-19.
Childcare is a big part of the problem. With many families having trouble accessing it in the current environment and continued disruptions to schooling of older children, many mothers are opting to continue to work from home. And that could create a duality of work tracks for women – and between women and men, who are more likely to return to the office.
"There is the potential for two tracks,” said Mann. “There [are] the people who are on the virtual track and people who are on a physical track. And I do worry that we will see those two tracks develop, and we will pretty much know who's going to be on which track, unfortunately."
That could further hinder efforts to close the gender gap – and the pandemic has already done plenty to set back that effort. The World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report found that the COVID-19 outbreak could extend the time it takes to bridge the gender gap by an entire generation. Pre-pandemic, the WEF had estimated it would take a staggering 100 years to achieve gender parity. Now, it says, that estimate is 136 years.
On top of that, women have lost jobs at a higher rate than men during the last 18 months. The International Labor Organization found that 5% of women were laid off, versus 3.9% of men. Data on LinkedIn shows women are being hired back at a slower rate in many industries, as the economy begins to recover. And they’re less likely to be hired for leadership roles, which reverses up to two years’ progress.
Women have taken on additional work and home responsibilities since last March. Nearly 80% told Deloitte that their work responsibilities had increased, and 66% said they were responsible for the majority of home duties. Over half handled childcare, also.
That makes a return to the office more daunting, especially if their employer is requiring a full-time return or limited hybrid options – and that raises fears of being left out. But Michele Parmelee, Deloitte’s global deputy CEO and chief people & purpose officer, noted in a summary of the report that the situation also presented an opportunity for companies to reverse the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on working women.
“As organizations look to rebuild their workplaces, those that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in their policies and culture and provide tangible support for the women in their workforces will be more resilient against future disruptions,” she said. “Additionally, they will lay the groundwork needed to propel women and gender equity forward in the workplace.”
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.