Is the rush to remote work helpful or harmful for gender equity?
Answer: it depends. Despite all the buzz around the benefits of flexible work arrangements, there’s a possibility that remote work will stunt our forward momentum toward gender equity if the proper infrastructure isn’t in place to support the shift.
Remote and flexible work arrangements have long been cited as key to closing the gender equity gap in the workplace. Here are four common reasons why:
1. Removes the Trailing Spouse Effect
Remote work fills the talent pool with more women who, if married, would be less likely than married men to relocate for their jobs. In other words, being able to work from any geographical location eliminates the “trailing spouse” syndrome.
2. Mitigates Height Bias
Remote work removes height bias or the fact that your height influences your earning potential and career success. Someone who is six feet tall can expect to earn nearly $166,000 more during a 30-year career than a colleague who is seven inches shorter. Since the average American woman stands nearly 5 feet 4 inches tall while the average American man stands 5 feet 9 inches tall, virtual workplaces could mitigate this bias.
3. Facilitates Work-Life Balance
Remote work helps women balance unpaid labor with paid labor. US women spend, on average, 96 minutes more per day on domestic labor (cooking, cleaning, and caregiving) than US men. Working from home frees women from traditional workday hours that limit their ability to care for the homefront. This is especially true for mothers, 42% of whom cut back on work hours to care for family (versus only 28% of fathers who do the same).
4. Women Want to Work from Home
Remote work is what women want. One study appropriately titled “What Women Want in 2020” found that 98% of women want to work from home at least once a week and 76% want their companies to offer more flexible schedules.
That said, a hasty, poorly-calculated transition to remote work could jeopardize gender equity in the long-term.
Consider the following concerns about remote work and gender equity:
1. Women Become More Invisible
Remote work could make women more invisible—leading to even fewer opportunities for advancement since managers often assign projects to those they can see and have frequent contact with. A lack of regular and frequent face time could lead to an even greater gender promotion gap—and thus greater gender inequity in the C-suite. Plus, only 42% of women feel they have the opportunity to self-promote compared to 58% of men.
(For context: Pre-COVID, only 72 women were promoted and hired to managerial roles for every 100 men promoted and hired, and women comprised only 21% of the C-suite.)
2. Managers Value In-Person Employees More
When given the choice to work remotely, employees that benefit from more flexible work arrangements (namely pregnant women, mothers, and caregivers) could find that their companies’ well-intentioned policies backfire on them since managers need to be trained to value remote and in-person employees equitably.
3. Inequitable Behavior Goes Unnoticed
It’s difficult to observe and correct inequitable practices when employees are working remotely. Ensuring everyone’s voice is heard and respected in a Zoom call is different than ensuring everyone’s voice is heard and respected in a conference room.
To ensure the mass migration to remote work doesn’t compromise our journey equity we need to account for its potential downsides.
We can use AI to embed gender equity into remote talent management so that women aren’t left further behind in our transition to remote work.
AI platforms can ensure that human capital management decisions made across an entire organization are equitable, transparent, data-driven, and free of bias. (Especially pay, performance, potential decisions.)
This approach to talent management removes the ambiguities and biases that are prevalent in human management processes. It also replaces informal or relationship-based promotion opportunities with objective, data-driven decision-making.
This article was originally published here.
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