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The Impact of Returning to The Office on Gender Equality- Why Flexible Working/WFH Is Vital

The Impact of Returning To The Office On Gender Equality- Why Flexible Working/WFH Is Vital 

Thinking out loud with Cal Whaley: Insights from our expert leaders and coaches 

In a post-pandemic world, so many divides in society have made their way into the daily narrative, particularly that of gender parity and representation in the workplace. Although the work from home mandates initially came as a welcome change, unfortunately as time has passed, it has revealed fundamental issues with gender visibility in corporate environments.

With this in mind, we wanted to briefly examine the impact of returning to the office on gender equality and why flexible working is vital to further empower and support employees based on their needs in and out of work.

Lean in

Because presence and visibility have been a prerequisite of corporate life, they became embedded in the fibres of office mentality in which it seems if you’re not there, you’re not working, to put it simply. However through the pandemic when everyone was remote, it evened the playing field somewhat, which makes the contrast now all the more stark. Now that working from home is no longer a legal requirement and as organisations examine whether to return to the office, remain remote or adopt a hybrid format, we realise that given responsibilities at home, a huge divide in perspectives based on gender requirements has come to the fore.

Almost 60% of women who work in hybrid environments feel they have been excluded from meetings and interactions, and almost half say they do not have enough exposure to leaders—a critical enabler of sponsorship and career progression. This exclusion is taking its toll. Women who have reported experiencing exclusion in a hybrid environment report much worse mental health and higher stress levels. They are also more likely to have taken time off to cope with mental-health challenges.
Hybrid working is also not delivering the predictability that many women, including those with caregiving responsibilities seek. Sixty-four percent of hybrid workers indicate their employer hasn’t set clear expectations around where and how they’re expected to work.

Deloitte– Women @ Work 2022: A Global Outlook Report.

It seems now, from the many reports we read and what we are hearing on the ground from the thousands of women we are working with, is that the responsibility to “be seen” and balance home life has become a cocktail for burnout and utter exhaustion. Essentially leaving women feeling that they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. So, it’s high time we consult the experts. Enter our wonderful and insightful Founder Caroline.

Caroline spent 14 years in senior global brand marketing and General Manager roles in the UK, Europe, North America, and Latin America. Caroline is also a qualified Organisational Relationships Systems Coach and has an MBA (Distinction) from Lancaster University. Let’s see what Cal had to say on the subject and her advice for organisations exploring their options.

Working from home- a blessing in disguise or a smoking gun?

Over to Caroline for her thoughts…

I could count on one hand the number of Shine programs we ran pre-pandemic that didn’t include a conversation about working from home. It’s something women craved as a means of managing their multiple responsibilities. The blurring of the lines between home and work was seen as the utopian way of taking back control, of putting them back in the driving seat in all aspects of their lives.

And then suddenly it happened without warning. Everyone found themselves in this utopian situation. Or was it? Initially, absolutely it was. Most of the hundreds of women we worked with during that period loved the hours claimed back from no commute – wonderful! A chance to sit down and have a meal as a family – a beautiful rarity! Women started to juggle life on their terms and, for the most part (excluding those homeschooling kids), found it liberating.

But that time has waned, and we’ve found ourselves in a weird state of inertia. We’re not back in, and we’re not fully working from home. As organisations try and put some guardrails in place for their perceived best version of working practices, all genders are trying to hold fast to flexibility – and of course, by definition, flexibility has to be flexible – and that’s tripping us up.

Many of the most recent reports see this subject as a looming gender equality issue as women ‘choose’ to work from home more, and men ‘choose to go into work more’. However, that’s just not the full story. In fact, according to the BBC this week, 73% of ALL people want flexibility, and this is the moment to make that happen. So out of adversity finally comes this opportunity to redesign work – along with four-day working weeks and other such new working practices that benefit women and everyone else around them.

If we can grab this moment and create genuinely flexible working practices, everyone will benefit and work will become a place of gratitude, engagement and productivity.

So what’s the solution?

It’s a tricky subject, and having attempted to wrangle 25 Managing Directors into agreement over their WFH policies recently, I know it’s not easy. Actually, it’s like herding cats.

The companies we’re seeing managing this best are doing a few things.

⭐ Firstly experimenting. We are going to try x for three months and measure the impact. Then we will try Y for three months. Then measuring against productivity, engagement etc. There’s a watch out that this can create more angst for people trying to manage busy lives, but at least it is fair and can be measured. Plenty of notice is required.

⭐ Secondly, some of our clients are creating a structure within which there is flexibility. For example, we want everyone in the office two days a week. That creates enough structure with flexibility built-in for individual choice. One CEO told me they tell people when they are going to be in themselves and encourage their teams to cross over by at least one of those days.

⭐ The third, and personally my favourite, takes a different tack altogether and focuses on inspiring people to be in the office at those key and defining moments. Despite getting used to our isolation, when people come back to collaborate and connect, the social need in all of us is fed and becomes addictive again. By choreographing those moments and making them special – even creating a bit of FOMO – we can go a long way to enticing people back into a workspace for the key collaboration moments. Plenty of notice and regular gatherings can alleviate the challenge for those needing to plan well ahead.

There you have it, a few actionable suggestions of how to introduce true and fair flexibility into your teams to ensure that gender parity is at the centre of the discussion. The best advice is to listen. Listen to your teams, understand their needs and protect their free time. If you can mindfully consider this advice you can find the balance that most benefits your team.

If you want to stop talking about achieving gender parity and move to action, even in these times of modern working, we can make that happen.

Share this article with your colleagues and the people around you and encourage a healthy discussion. And for anything else, follow us on social media or get in touch via email but remember when women thrive, men thrive, business thrives

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