Why remote working is the key to true workplace equality
We all have personal dreams and life goals that we hope to achieve, from earning a degree or getting married, to one day owning our own business and retiring early. But all too often, life gets in the way, and we have to put our dreams on hold – sometimes indefinitely. This is particularly true for women, with far too many still forced to choose between family and careers, often at a point in their lives when they are on the verge of major career success.
Lockdowns and school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic only magnified these issues. Huge numbers of women had no choice but to leave the workforce temporarily or permanently to focus on their children’s emotional and educational needs at such a difficult time. Interestingly, a key factor in many such decisions was that their partners were on larger salaries or had greater job security at the time. This begs the question; would these decisions have been the same if unequal pay and glass ceilings were really a thing of the past and no longer existed in so many organisations?
Fortunately, the pandemic did have something of a silver lining when it comes to the way we live and work now. The explosion of remote working in the last few years – and long overdue acceptance of it – has not only revolutionised work for millions of people around the world, but it has also opened the door to true equality in the workplace for women everywhere.
It’s all about accessibility
It used to be that a woman’s location, nationality, education, native language, and the immediate network would almost entirely define the professional opportunities that were available to her. However, the post-pandemic rise of remote working has completely turned this on its head. Suddenly, factors like location and nationality are no longer as important in helping organisations choose suitable candidates for open positions. More and more we are realising that skills and experience are what really matter, and where candidates are physically based almost becomes irrelevant when the right technology is in place.
This more accessible work and learning environment is helping to level the playing field for women around the world in several ways. Firstly, remote work can create jobs in countries and economies where there are few, allowing people to work in their native town without the mandate that they must move or commute to a big city. Secondly, remote work has the power to disrupt the traditional flow of capital. Venture capital now holds international influence, which brings local businesses access to capital. This mainly impacts women who want to start their own business but have never had the resources to do so in the past. Lastly, remote work can advance the ideas of underrepresented groups, such as women, and can help them advance in their careers based on performance, not gender.
Flexibility is also a key factor
Remote working brings all kinds of benefits with it, but perhaps the biggest of all is the flexibility it provides. While remote work environments are valuable to both men and women alike, there’s growing evidence to suggest it’s intrinsically more meaningful to women. For instance, a recent study found that 68% of women prefer to work remotely post-pandemic compared to 57% of men.
Flexibility plays a critical part in closing gender gaps and empowering women to advance their careers. Flexible work environments can also help to reduce gender inequality by enabling working mothers to stay in the labour market longer, which is why it must be a baseline for companies aspiring to build women up.
Some may argue that offering women flexible work schedules reinforces traditional gender roles because it stems from the expectation that mothers must do the housework and take care of the children while also working from home. Yes, there are common pitfalls when it comes to flexible work strategies, but these hurdles ought not to deter companies from offering flexible work options in the first place. Women are fully capable of determining their own work preferences and priorities if they are given the choice.
Technology is crucial but will only get you so far by itself
Of course, technology plays a crucial role in empowering women through remote working, but it is not the only factor at play. Company culture can be just as important. Not only must women be motivated and encouraged by their peers, managers, and mentors, but senior executives and business leaders must also put faith in women who show initiative and step out of their comfort zones, regardless of where/how they choose to work. Fostering a proper culture of trust can help business leaders truly unlock the potential in all their employees, helping them to think more boldly and work with confidence.
The topic of global equality for women is not an easy nut to crack, and we still have a long way to go on the journey to full equality. However, greater acceptance of powerful tools like remote working can only have a positive impact when it comes to promoting gender equality at a practical level and keeping skilled individuals in the workforce for as long as possible.