Women’s careers could be stunted if they continue to work at home as more men return to the office as the pandemic recedes, a leading Bank of England official has said.
Catherine Mann, a member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, told a virtual Financial News Women in Finance event that women were more likely to be working at home than men and aren’t returning to work to the same extent.
She said video conferencing, despite being easy to use and efficient, was not a sufficient substitute for physical proximity and was an obstacle to the kind of spontaneous conversations that took place in the office.
“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.
Many women were continuing to work from home to avoid complexities in accessing childcare and Covid-related disruption to schooling, she said, leaving men free to return to the office.
“There is the potential for two tracks. There’s 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,” she said.
Mann was an economics professor and chief economist at Citi and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), before joining the BoE in September.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the proportion of the workforce estimated to be working from offices or “designated workspaces” in the past two weeks is 60%, while 13% are working from home. About one in six employees (17%) are estimated to be using a hybrid model of working.
Those working in the information and communication sector having the highest proportion of staff working only from home (4-17 October 2021) with 44% working at home exclusively, 35% working on a hybrid basis and 16% from a “designated workspace”.
In professional services, 34% of staff were in the office, 24% were fully working from home, and 35% were doing a mix, according to the ONS.
Data on the proportional gender split of people working from home is not conclusive with the ONS saying that in October slightly more men than women worked at home but the difference fell within the margin of error.
The ONS said that men and women who were less able to switch to working from home were more likely to have poor health, to live in deprived areas, to have lower or no qualifications and lower wellbeing. “Therefore, while increased working from home among older workers may benefit some, having fewer opportunities to do so may reinforce existing inequalities,” it said.