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Impact of working from home on gender equality and the steps you can take to change it

Gender equality is an essential condition for an innovative, competitive and thriving economy. In business, politics and society, we can only reach our full potential if we use all our talent and diversity. Gender equality brings more jobs and higher productivity – a potential which needs to be realised as we embrace the green and digital transitions, and face up to our demographic challenges.

In the UK, we have seen an historic push for gender equality, promoting it as a fundamental human right. However, despite advances from the government in social and political policy, as well as from employers on their own policies, gender inequality still exists across much of the UK’s working environment.

A traditional perception of gender roles presents women as primary carers – an idea deeply rooted in society, and one which is reflected in the value of both paid and unpaid work.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, 46.6% of people in employment did at least some work at home – 86% of which did so as a direct result of the pandemic. Women were slightly (2%) more likely to work from home than men (Source: ONS).

The increase in home working that was seen during the pandemic has not dissipated as the pandemic has subsided. In fact, as many of us will know, working from home (particularly in the digital service sector) is very much now seen as the norm.

The challenges of working remotely

Despite the obvious benefits, having an isolated workforce presents a new set of challenges. How do you instil and maintain the same company culture? How do you develop skills and build relationships with staff? Indeed, how do you enable staff to build relationships with each other? Perhaps most importantly of all, how do you ensure that all employees voices are heard?

Further to this point, working from home makes the role of self-promotion even more crucial. When you cannot be seen, it is your voice and self-belief that help you to stand out.

“Only 42% of women feel they have the opportunity to self-promote compared to 58% of men.” (Source: HR Magazine)

The idea that women may experience a lack of self-belief and face challenges in self-promotion, leading to being overlooked, is a common observation in discussions on gender dynamics and workplace inequality. This phenomenon is often associated with cultural and societal factors that can contribute to differences in confidence, assertiveness and opportunities for career advancement between men and women.

This perceived lack of opportunity and self-belief can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, where women may hesitate to advocate for themselves, resulting in missed chances for career growth.

A further issue is focused on work-life conflict

“51% of women say that being a working mother makes it harder for them to advance their careers, while only 16% percent of fathers feel the same way. (Source: HR Magazine)

The traditional perception (and, indeed, reality) of working mothers results in a disproportionate work-life conflict. Women, even with a full-time job take on more of the household responsibilities for childcare and household chores than their male counterparts. This has a detrimental effect on their ability to deliver against their work goals and is seen as a key rationale to justify the gender pay divide.

Work-life conflict by gender infographics

Working mothers are far more likely to be negatively affected both in perceived ability to complete a role and in the physical ability to deliver it. Their work-life conflict is significantly greater than that of a father.

Although social care is vital, it cannot be government policy alone that addresses these challenges. Of course, government policy can help identify the challenge and create the political and social landscape to promote it. It is the role of us as employers to put in place the policies that will enable gender equality to flourish.

Flexible working practices are key and they benefit everyone, especially working mothers, as they enable them to accept more work and importantly take time to upskill and reskill. Of course, the practice also engenders a healthy work-life balance.

Encouraging a mindset of work-life integration, and recognizing that employees may have diverse responsibilities and interests, allows for a more holistic approach to balancing work and personal life.

Overcoming the issue of visibility through open communications and inclusive leadership

Open communication channels can help address concerns and ensure that women’s contributions are recognized and valued. Simultaneously, mentorship and sponsorship programs ensure women have visibility and support in their professional growth.

Overall, as employers, it is essential to recognize that the impact of working from home on gender equality is multifaceted, and addressing these issues requires a comprehensive and collaborative effort from both employers and policymakers.

Above all, creating an inclusive and supportive work environment is crucial for fostering gender equality in the evolving landscape of remote work and ensuring we can all reach our full potential irrespective of our gender.