Muslim woman working from home, flexible workingWhile questions surrounding the way we work and the future of work have been around for a while, the pandemic has unquestionably kicked things into overdrive.

Practically overnight, businesses all over the world found themselves accelerating remote working initiatives which typically took months to plan and implement at scale, and turning what they thought wouldn’t work into a necessity to keep doors open and jobs secure. Several months down the line in this unique situation, and we’re learning more about flexible work arrangements and how working from home full-time or part-time might affect that coveted work-life balance for the better, particularly for women in tech.

Flexible working for women in tech

According to a 2019 study by WISE, women made up just 16% of IT roles—a shocking figure by any standards. While there are a number of factors feeding into that low number, traditional notions about gender and childcare remain one of the most harmful to women not only carving out a career in tech, but seeking to advance in their field and do so without the expectation that they ‘choose’ between family and having a career. And one simple way to help women manage both is through offering flexible working options.

This is by no means news, of course. Before we’d ever heard of Covid-19, flexible hours and home working were reported to be the most wanted benefits for women in tech, however this wish stood alongside legitimate concerns about preconceptions attached to these two perks in particular. The flexibility stigma is, in a nutshell, the discrimination or negative attitude towards employees who work flexibly. This, in turn, has a negative impact on career progression and work-life balance, as women might not feel comfortable taking advantage of these working patterns for fear of being viewed as ‘less’ than a male colleague who does not work flexibly. The result of that could be anything from women being overlooked for a promotion or pay rise because of this flawed perception of flexible working, to women being forced out of their workplace or industry because of the unevenly distributed demands of home life, or working longer hours in a move to compensate for that same skewed perception.

Prior to the pandemic, fewer women than men actually had flexible or remote work as benefits, with working mothers feeling the brunt of that stigma more than any other demographic. But this year has seen the lines between work and home blurred almost beyond recognition for all of us as we work, live, play, exercise all under one roof, and sometimes in the same room. While we’ve found ourselves separated from friends and colleagues, there’s a real feeling of community that emerges from this challenging experience. We’re collectively isolated, in a way, and that’s fostered a greater sense of understanding across organisations. From C-Suite down, the majority of people in your organisation now know what it’s like to try and balance a productive work day with the likes of childcare and home schooling, and we all know what it’s like to try and get through a video call while handling the demands of a child (or two, or three) desperate to get your attention.

The struggles of working parents are more widely understood than ever before, with everyone from our colleagues to board members doing their best to balance it all. There’s more visibility than ever on the issues faced by women in tech, and that’s an opportunity we can’t afford to waste. The global shift to remote work has allowed us to step back and get some perspective on traditional, and in some cases antiquated, ways of operating, and really look at what’s working, what’s not, and how the barriers women face professionally can continue to be lifted.

Equality starts at home

It’s now a well-documented fact that women typically put significantly more hours in as caregivers than their male counterparts, even when working from home, and that’s a problem. Even beyond standard business hours, if women are carrying the lion’s share of childcare, home schooling, and housework duties, burnout is inevitable and that impacts on your ability to deliver at work and be truly present at home. It’s no longer enough to simply offer ‘equal pay for equal work’—that’s the bare minimum. We need to push for more widespread acceptance and awareness of the lifestyle differences that divide genders, often leaving women at a disadvantage, not only on an organisational level, but individually.

Even beyond childcare responsibilities, providing a culture where equal opportunities are available for all staff is simply the right thing to do. A woman should be entitled to take advantage of the same perks as her male counterparts without fear of reprise, whether that’s in her professional development or just becoming subject to gossip. Handling remote teams working different hours is only going to increase, so getting to grips with how you manage it now will only put you in a stronger position in future.

As employers, it’s up to us to lead from the front and champion not just equality across the sexes, but the initiatives that help foster that effectively. It’s our responsibility to provide employees with the resources necessary to learn about the kind of inequality we see in our industry, and what they can do individually to tackle that and build a more diverse, more inclusive workplace.

Beyond the pandemic 

In a post-pandemic landscape, we need to encourage more employers to really look at the benefits they offer, and ask themselves if they’re inclusive enough to support employees from a diverse range of backgrounds. Businesses doing that now will reap the benefits that come from empowering women to reclaim their space in the tech industry, including improved innovation and bridging the digital skills gap by tapping into talent that would have been overlooked without flexible work opportunities. Looking ahead, the truly successful employers out there will be the ones who questioned what they were doing because of convention, and what they needed to do to help their employees—and their business—truly thrive.

About the author

Nabila Salem is the President of Revolent, one of the world’s leading cloud talent creators. She has extensive leadership experience in professional services, tech recruitment, and marketing based in the UK and USA. Nabila has always played an active role in encouraging, supporting, and promoting diversity in the workplace–so much so that she was recognized in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 List in 2019.

 

 


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