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Telecommuting: A blessing or a curse for gender equality?

Cubo writersOct 12, 2022

As technology develops, there is always the opportunity to exploit the workforce. Therefore, many people are hesitant to adopt technologies to ensure testing assures the product's equality. Unintentional biases occur in development. Unfortunately, sometimes technology does not provide the equality we expect.

Headlines in the past have proclaimed the successes of women in leadership positions. However, many believe the initial impression of workplace gender discrimination was heading in the right direction. However, remote work discrimination might have a different story.

The reality is the progress on the gender equality front has been modest since 2015. Unique challenges have materialized in the wake of the global pandemic.

Some have expressed a regressive impact on workplace gender equality since COVID-19. According to facts, the pandemic appears to have disproportionately affected women. However, the global workforce representation is 39%, and these women accounted for 54% of job losses in May 2020.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) reported that in 2020, there were 21,398 filed complaints of gender discrimination.

Obviously, more action is needed to achieve results with long-lasting societal and business benefits. A survey by Catalyst found employees want their company to improve gender equity post-pandemic.

However, this study observed only 34% believed their company would take the necessary measures.

Adapting to the post-COVID landscape means considering the changes in the social contract terms with employees. There is no denying the remote work model will remain.

As with any change, businesses must be mindful of how remote work impacts gender equality. Gender discrimination has never left the workplace, even in a virtual setting. Therefore we put together five observations on how you can combat gender discrimination in the remote workplace.

The problem of remote work "presenteeism"

A woman in a black long sleeve shirt sitting on a chair workingAs you are well aware, companies have to be creative. Introducing hybrid and remote work options has helped keep the business afloat. However, there is concern men and women make different decisions about where they want to work.

Therefore these specific decisions lead to an imbalance in the physical workspace landscape. The differing choices based on genders' particular needs could have long-term consequences for gender equality. Therefore these choices could impact the advancement of women in the workplace.

A recent survey observed that 68% of women prefer to work remotely only in the post-pandemic world versus 57% of male respondents.

A UK-based poll observed similar findings. Here, 69% of women with children want to work from home at least once a week. However, 56% of men with children stated they would prefer to stay at home.

A scenario where more women prefer at-home office work and men return to the office at an elevated rate could lead to greater gender inequality in the workplace. Therefore there could become a reinforcement of stereotypical domestic roles.

If a case like this were to transpire, it could stall women's career potential in earnings and advancement. An excessive percentage of men in the office versus women working at home could lead to a new form of "presenteeism."

Therefore, a company's bias toward rewarding office workers could increase. Despite remote work's popularity, many companies reward in-person culture. If they see you in the office daily, you will be rewarded because of the familiarity, not the productivity.

The unfortunate development of a hybrid working arrangement is that individuals who work from home are out of sight and out of mind. Combating presenteeism requires companies to "learn to evaluate output and reward people for their contributions rather than for the show they put on.

Therefore, regardless of where employees work, the advancement of women's and men's careers should see a similar trend where they are both presented with equal opportunities.

The broken rung holds women back

While referencing the "glass ceiling" in our discussions as the main barrier to women's advancement in the workplace, the problem lies with an obstacle called the "broken rung" of the corporate ladder.

The broken rung does not appear in remote work as a simple remedy to the situation, particularly if the "presenteeism" problem discussed above persists.

Previous research shows men are more likely than women to be promoted from entry level to management positions. Early in a budding career, this imbalance is why fewer women are at every progressive step on the corporate ladder.

Therefore women are at a disadvantage from the first step. Women can't climb fast enough to compete with men in senior positions.

The Women in the Workplace 2021 study observed for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are encouraged. The study also revealed Corporate America promotes at 30% higher rates than women during the early stages of their careers.

Women in entry-level positions spend five years or longer in the same role. So it's no surprise women believe their gender will make it harder to obtain opportunities to advance and thus improve earnings.

Until women advance to management positions at a similar or higher rate as men, upper-level representation will remain a male-dominated field.

Remote workplace microaggressions are a reality

Whether the microaggressions are subtle or explicit, they signal disrespect and reflect inequality in power. Therefore when  64% of women surveyed observed discrimination as a workplace truth.

Microaggressions can assume countless forms, but some common ones are constant interruptions or questioning judgment in one's area of expertise. Therefore, the ignoring of qualified individuals' contributions occurs.

Other microaggressions include comments on one's emotional state or being addressed in an unprofessional manner. However, all types of microaggressions provide the same effect of undermining an individual's professional status and credibility.

Women face hurdles with remote networking

Conversations with coworkers and supervisors in the breakroom might seem insignificant. However, informal networking is vital to career advancement.

Even before the pandemic, research showed women had difficulty finding advancement opportunities to interact with senior leaders at an alarmingly low rate.

While the experience may not sound like a noteworthy disparity at first glance, it has significant implications. These scenarios could determine who stays at a company, receives promotions, and sets their sights on leadership.

The citing of these hurdles with networking is one of the primary causes of workplace gender gaps. Moreover, 67% of women consider mentorship an essential factor for career advancement. However, only 10% of working women have a mentor.

So what is the reason behind these actions? Often time male managers state they are uncomfortable mentoring female employees.

Hybrid and remote work arrangements raise the question of whether the existing imbalance will widen by further diminishing opportunities for in-person networking. Therefore, it could have significant repercussions for women's career paths if the gender-based inequality of informal networks becomes accelerated.

Therefore it might be wise to consider mentoring opportunities for your teams. The mentoring opportunities should include those in remote settings. Thus women will have an added opportunity to advance their careers.

Companies must keep a pulse on cultural, demographic, and gender inequalities

Observing and having open discussions about gender equality in workplaces is essential. Therefore making, efforts to combat the discrimination experienced by people who are transgender and non-binary should occur.

Many remote workplaces fail to keep up with demographic and cultural shifts. Changes in how society observes gender will help not only your workplace culture but how your customer base sees your company.

While Corporate America has strolled around public support of LGBTQ+ rights, it still has a long road stepped to foster an inclusive environment truly. Therefore, workplaces must prioritize the issue, considering that an estimated 12% of millennials identify as trans or non-binary.

We must also remember millennials also comprise 35% of the U.S. workforce. Transgender and non-binary coworkers are more likely to be discriminated against. Their experiences in society are not a one-off. Discrimination and violence towards these individuals are commonplace. Therefore many hide their gender identity to avoid mistreatment.

If your employees feel mistreated in the workplace, they will not be able to perform at the highest level possible. Therefore, it is crucial to present a nonhostile environment for all employees.

They find it more challenging to understand remote workplace culture and benefits. The transgender and non-binary community also feel less support from their supervisors, which in turn, becomes more complicated to receive promotions.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey examined the experiences of transgender people in the U.S. The study observed that 30% of respondents who had a job the year before reported being denied a promotion, fired, or experienced some other form of mistreatment in the workplace due to their gender identity or expression.

Equality benefits everyone
Colleagues shaking each others hands

There is a risk gender equality could recede as a strategic priority as companies focus on post-pandemic recovery efforts. Of course, other preferences will always arise, but eliminating discrimination should never become a backburner issue.

After all, let's not forget that the gender equality initiative could spur business recovery. The efforts towards answering both initiatives can coexist since companies that are gender diverse outperform their competitors by as much as 25%.

One of the most prominent misconceptions about gender equality is it only aids women, but the data shows we all benefit.