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29 April 2020

Could remote working help level the playing field?

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As we all settle into this strange yet temporary new normal there has been a spotlight shone on the benefits that flexible and remote working can offer.

Cutting costs, increased productivity and employee health and wellbeing are top of the list. Less discussed though is the potential for remote working to help level some of the corporate gender bias. Specifically, it's potential to accelerate the closing of the gender pay gap.

The nine to five working day appeared at the start of the last century and was mainstreamed by Henry Ford in the 1920s. It was born out of an older industrial revolution. It is seen now as outdated and, in many cases, especially when companies become global and embrace the alternative workforce, unproductive.

The millennials have been labelled the disruptors of this old model of work. They champion the alternative workforce. But their desire for flexible working is not a reflection of wanting to work less at all. They simply want more flexibility in exchange for productivity. They want space and time for other commitments and responsibilities. For many that includes children and family. And those that struggle the most to balance children and their career are still predominantly, though by no means exclusively, female.

It’s been estimated that 43% of working women quit their jobs when they have children (Forbes). In comparison, only 28% of men say they have had to reduce their hours in order to care for a child. It’s sad to see that women’s career expectations have fallen compared to earlier generations. The baby boomer generation was promised greater equality. They were brought up to believe that as a woman they could and should be able to have a child and a career. It’s sad to see that society couldn’t deliver this. Their children saw their mothers struggle to balance work and children. This was due not to themselves, but a nine to five day and corporate culture that was not considerate of a mother’s needs.

The next generation set themselves, sadly lower expectations. A recent Pew survey noted that whilst 79% of baby boomers had expected their career success to equal their spouses, only 66% of millennials now believe that to be the case. Women make up only 14% of leadership roles in S&P 500 companies. It’s not a good showcase. Now I’m not saying this is a direct result of having children. But children can be one factor in a complex web of factors that affects a women’s career negatively, taking them out of the workforce and making it harder to achieve leadership roles and equal pay. As many companies look for ways to help support women with children stay in the workforce, remain productive and keep moving forward on their career path, remote and flexible working should be considered.

Compared to the 14% at S&P 500 companies, women make up 42% of the leadership roles in remote companies, 28% of remote-friendly companies have a female founder or cofounder, and 19% of them have a female CEO. When FlexJob interviewed women about how remote working had facilitated this the first thing to come up was that remote work emphasizes productivity and output not just face or office time. On top of this was commuting time saved and flexibility of time allowing them and their partners to better balance work with life duties. Lastly, it also partly levelled a bias playing field in which office politics, likeability, and even appearances still can be obstacles.

Now remote working is not a solution. There is still a gender pay gap between men and women even on the remote working scene. Female managers that work in an office are still more likely to earn higher salaries than they would if they worked remotely. Interpersonal dynamics remain an important factor for earning and development potential. But it is an important factor when addressing the gender imbalance. And with the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2020 predicting that it will be 257 years until men and women have equal pay, it’s a factor that should not be overlooked. 

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Katherine Templar Lewis

Katherine Templar Lewis spends her time as a Futurist, science communicator and consultant. She has travelled the globe speaking on new technology and its impact on individuals and society and has appeared on range of media as a science and technology expert including BBC, Sky News, Radio 4, NBC and the Today Show. She is a contributor to a range of media and is a guest blogger on The Huffington Post and is a believer in building a better future with human first technology.

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