Is remote working sexist?

WFH may seem like liberation, but not if it creates a two-tier workforce.

by Orianna Rosa Royle
Last Updated: 19 Oct 2020

The pandemic-induced shift to remote working is something of a double-edged sword for equality. 

On the one hand, according to research by Gartner, it seems to be normalising a more flexible approach to work that would tend to benefit working women who have been disproportionately held back by parental and other caring responsibilities.

This is backed up by Management Today’s own research, which found that 86.4 per cent of business leaders surveyed believe offering remote working improves talent attraction and/or retention

But at the same time, the rise in remote working could also stump female career progression.

Speaking at the Gartner ReimagineHR conference, Gartner HR chief Brian Kropp warned that despite in-office and remote workers performing at the same level, managers are biased against remote workers.

“Managers are saying they’re more likely to promote people that work in office than remote and give more negative feedback to remote employees,” he said.

“But when you look at the data more women are dropping out of the workplace because of the pandemic, more women would rather continue to work remotely, and women are more likely to give employees flexible working.

“So offering flexibility at your company creates disadvantages to women more than men. Companies risk career decisions, like raises, become more biased against women, not because of performance but because of perceptions.”

So could gender inequality widen as a result of companies looking to adopt a hybrid model in the long term?

Yes and no, says Ania Krasniewska Shahidi, practice vice president at Gartner. While unconscious bias against remote workers (which already existed) has been exacerbated by the pandemic, she says there are ways of keeping that bias in check.

Start by simply being aware it is there, Shahidi says, arguing that unconscious bias training isn’t sufficient, but it is necessary

She assures that “unconscious bias is something everyone has, it’s a shortcut, it’s the way our brain works” but through training, leaders “can develop a system to self-check for it”. 

Shahidi says leaders must constantly question themselves: “Am I making a statement on actual performance? And, do I make that statement equally across the board?”

To ensure your unconscious bias doesn’t make an impact on progression, like when conducting formal reviews, she suggests having another trained person in the room to flag when bias takes place in a conversation. 

She adds: “They can point out: Are we really talking about that person's performance or preconceived perceptions of remote working?”

Image credit: Pekic via Getty Images

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