As we approach this year’s Equal Pay Day, has the shift to new working practices since the pandemic actually proven detrimental to women? Sarah Jackson looks at the evidence.
The Fawcett Society’s Equal Pay Day, which falls this weekend on 20 November, marks the day of the year on which women effectively stop earning compared with men.
It’s a timely reminder that too many women still lag behind men in the workplace and, this year, there’s a focus on whether hybrid working is part of the problem.
Hybrid and other forms of flexible working have the potential to do wonders for equality and tackling the gender pay gap by enabling women to remain in, and progress at, work.
But we’re now seeing old social narratives seeping into our new ways of working that put women at home and men in the office, and reward men for their apparent career dedication.
Choice of location
Despite changed working patterns because of the pandemic, women are still more likely to be the primary carer in a family – whether for a child or for a dependent adult.
Hybrid working & women
As a result, they’re more likely to choose to work flexibly, on reduced hours, or from home, as often as their role allows.
The recruitment firm Totum found earlier this year that men are indeed more likely to work in the office. More than three in four men opt for two to three days onsite, compared with fewer than half of women, it found.
The same study showed that women seem to understand the importance of being in the office, even if they choose to be there less often.
More than half (55%) identified communicating with managers, and nearly a quarter (23%) said career progression were reasons for working on the premises. The comparable figures for men were 38% and 12%.
Managers surveyed this summer by the Chartered Management Institute agreed that men work in the office more often than women.
Looking at their own patterns of work, male managers were significantly more likely than female managers to mostly or completely work from the office (48% to 38%), whereas female managers were significantly more likely than male managers to work mostly or completely from home (41% to 34%).
Before the Covid lockdowns, these significant gendered differences didn’t exist, certainly not at scale.
It was notable too that male managers were more likely to have more men than women direct reports and vice versa. So it’s possible that teams working mainly in the office will be male-led and male majority.
This may have a bearing on evidence from Deloitte’s Women @ Work report 2022 that almost 60% of women who work in hybrid settings feel they have been excluded from important meetings. Almost half say they don’t have enough exposure to leaders for their career progression.
The Deloitte study is also concerning in its insight into the experience of hybrid working for women with caring responsibilities. Only around one quarter say that their employer has set clear expectations of how and where they should work.
Hybrid may be presented as opening up greater choice for the worker, but ‘Liberty Hall’ comes with its own problems, especially for those whose caring role requires predictability around when and where they are expected to be at work.
Deloitte’s study backs up other research that men tend to dominate in online meetings. This occurs more often in hybrid settings than in fully remote or fully in-person settings, suggesting we shouldn’t take for granted that appropriate behaviours will simply translate across into hybrid environments.
Being less visible, by being offsite, is likely to double down on pre-existing gendered disadvantages.”
Professor Martine Haas of the Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania has written about the double disadvantage that women face from hybrid working. She says women already find it harder to build networks and find career sponsors. Mothers are presumed to be less committed.
And, as the Deloitte survey confirms, women find it hard to be heard in online meetings. Being less visible, by being offsite, is likely to double down on these pre-existing gendered disadvantages.
Men who choose to work offsite may experience the out of sight disadvantage too, of course, but they do not start from an already disadvantaged position.
Fix the problem, not the women
While it can feel like we are at the top of a slippery slope down into greater inequality, all is not lost. It will be critically important for employers to keep looking at hybrid working through the lens of gender equality.
Because, as ever, this is not about fixing the women. It is about employers understanding the societal and community contexts that prompt people’s choices about when, where and how much to work.
Offering choice and control with one hand, but then penalising their take up with the other, is self-defeating and a fast-track to missing out on the well documented benefits of greater gender equality.
Monitoring how work is allocated, tracking career progression and eliminating bias from hiring and promotion processes are not new. But all are becoming more urgent as people work more remotely and asynchronously.
Where employers have these measures consistently in place, hybrid and flexible working can be the force for good it should be, helping women – and men – enter the workforce, stay in work, and progress at work.
This is good for individuals, as well as for employers and for our economy at large. Employers must understand their critical role. They must be vigilant and proactive. Then we shall be able to mark Equal Pay Day increasingly later each year.
Diversity and inclusion opportunities on Personnel Today