Working from home has increased the pressure on business leaders to identify barriers to workplace equality in the new virtual ‘office,’ as well as the women in their workforces who are the most affected by the pandemic. COVID-19 has exacerbated inequalities that have hampered women’s careers for years, threatening to halt progress toward workplace gender equity.
Juggling work and home
The remote working model induced by the pandemic allowed for a healthier work-life balance by eliminating commute times and increasing flexibility and control over working hours. However, after a year of working from home, that isn’t the case for everyone.
According to a Harvard Business Review study, mothers have felt the negative effects of remote working because women take on more domestic and child-care responsibilities than their male partners. Because of the pervasiveness of gender norms in the home, women are more likely to have homeschooled their children during COVID-19. Working from home creates a lack of separation between work and home life, making burnout more likely.
Gendered performance standards
Women are frequently subjected to higher performance expectations than men. Women’s advancement through the corporate ranks may be slowed as a result of these disparities in performance expectations.
Employers can reduce unconscious biases by implementing diversity training and soliciting feedback from women and marginalised groups on how they believe performance reviews discriminate against them. In order to make these evaluation processes more fair, data is crucial. After identifying any issues with their data, organisations must determine whether performance measures are assessing what they were designed to measure, such as work quality.
Forging a virtual presence
In the physical workplace, female employees have long struggled to be noticed and have their voices heard. Inequality between men and women has made its way into the virtual meeting room: Women have a hard time speaking up in virtual meetings, according to 45 percent of female business leaders. The problem is exacerbated by the virtual workspace’s lack of visual cues such as eye contact and body language, which can assist employees in determining when it’s appropriate to speak. Women, on the other hand, benefit from the online workplace.
Another advantage of online meetings is that everyone has similar-sized displays. This means that in a virtual office, women don’t have to worry as much about higher-ranking employees dominating the physical space.
The virtual office, like a physical office, presents challenges to gender equality, but women can take advantage of the space and invest in tools to boost their confidence, overcoming the office hierarchies that are common in physical meetings.
Being a ‘manbassador’ to women
Only through the efforts of both male and female employees can true equality in the workplace be achieved. There are three key ways men can act as allies in the fight against gender inequality in the workplace. First and foremost, it is critical to avoid eclipsing women’s voices by speaking on their behalf.
Men cannot connect with female employees in the virtual office in the same way that they can in the physical office. Going the extra mile to invite female employees for a virtual chat to see how they’re doing gives them a chance to express any anxieties or stressors they’re dealing with.
It’s also crucial to promote a supportive culture that recognises and promotes the role of men in the fight against gender inequality. Allies can help bring about social change in the workplace; it isn’t just up to managers to make a difference in the lives of working women.
Many organisations will continue to allow employees to work from home after COVID-19. So, regardless of gender, business leaders and allies should make sure they’re doing everything they can to achieve gender equity for women in the virtual and physical office.