Could the home office support gender diversity
could_the_home_office_support_gender_diversity

Could the home office support gender diversity ?

There is no denying that gender diversity is a powerful recruiting tool. It can add tremendous value to a company’s employer brand. That is why so many firms try to promote it.

29 July 2020

An inclusive workplace widens the talent pool attracted to a company, which is important in Switzerland: the country already experiences a shortage of talent. Increasing gender diversity within a company could, therefore, be a real game-changer.

The challenge is making it work. Men and women will be attracted to a role for completely different reasons. How a company promotes a position to candidates is therefore crucial.

If the tone of a job description is perceived to be too aggressive and macho, it could put off exceptionally talented female candidates from applying. The perceived lack of career growth is another issue. If management positions are dominated by men, it might be difficult for women to see how their careers may progress within the firm.

The question is whether remote working can solve these issues?

The recent pandemic has forced many professional workers to operate from home. And, even though the lockdown is over, there has been no rush to get workers back to the office. Many companies have announced that workers will return in phases and only partially. Some companies have even announced that workers will not return to the office until the end of this year. In the case of Novartis, its CEO Vas Narasimhan recently announced that 110,000 workers will be allowed to work from home forever. [1]

Subsequently, many topics are now being debated. These include how a better work-life balance and flexible working might be achieved by working remotely. And, how this shift in work culture could subsequently make some positions more accessible to female candidates.

Office politics

This is one of the most popular theories about gender diversity: if companies can reduce office politics, they can attract more female talent. The idea is that this could be achieved through remote working. In theory, there would be less gossip, chatter, ego inflation, and power struggles if people worked from home.

A few years ago, the Harvard Business Review found in a survey that men and women view office politics differently. [2] Men described office politics as "competition" while women used the term “influence”. Most participants from both genders also agreed that women were judged more harshly if they engaged in office politics. Therefore, if remote working does reduce office politics, then it could leave women more empowered to apply for senior positions.

Sexual harassment

In theory, working from home should liberate employees from toxic workplace behavior such as bullying and harassment. This is a pandemic problem that can prevent women from progressing in their careers. Any behavior that makes women feel uncomfortable just for being female, whether intended or unintended, is sexual harassment. In the office, it is a problem that continues to persist and it is bad for business: it suppresses female talent and reduces productivity.

Remote working, however, hasn't really reduced harassment. It has just converted it from the physical form into the digital form. Unwanted WhatsApp messages to personal phones will persist. Being excluded from meetings or harassed over video calls can also happen. To compound matters, mental health issues can exacerbate the problem. Isolation and loneliness at home can increase levels of sexual harassment. The other problem is the boundaries between work and private life: it can become blurred as video calls bring everyone into the intimacy of people’s homes.  

In this instance, the home office isn’t a solution for reducing sexual harassment. Strong corporate policy and a good progressive corporate culture are what is required to remove this problem and promote gender diversity.

Flexible working

Flexible working could be hugely beneficial for working parents. Although many fathers are more active nowadays with their parental responsibilities, mothers remain the main caregivers. In a recent survey by The New York Times, women were found to receive the brunt of caregiving, homeschooling, and housework during the lockdown. [3]

In Switzerland, children traditionally walk home to have lunch before returning to school. They then return home mid-afternoon. For working mothers, it is a logistic challenge that's often only resolved with expensive childcare.

Remote working, however, could offer flexibility for women to be mothers and professional workers. Career sacrifices need not be made and working mothers could in theory be liberated to pursue their careers.

However, I'm hesitant to draw this conclusion.  If anything, remote working could increase the pressures that working mothers experience. Without childcare, their workload is likely to increase as they are effectively doing two jobs at once: being a full-time mother and a professional worker simultaneously.

Does remote working address gender diversity?

Whether remote working will empower women in the workforce is an intriguing discussion. It will not necessarily promote gender diversity. Offering the flexibility to work from home is certainly a step in the right direction. A lot more direct action is needed by companies, however, to promote gender diversity.

 

References
1. Tages Anzeiger, "Novartis erlaubt Homeoffice für immer – mit Folgen für den Hauptsitz"; Isabel Strassheim, 22 July 2020
2. Harvard Business Review, "3 Simple Ways for Women to Rethink Office Politics and Wield More Influence at Work"; Kathryn Heath, 18 December 2017
3. The New York Times, "Nearly Half of Men Say They Do Most of the Home Schooling. 3 Percent of Women Agree."; Claire Cain Miller, 8 May 2020.

Luca Semeraro

Head of Badenoch & Clark
Zurich, Switzerland

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