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Why flexible working must embrace career progression post-Covid.
I feel like I am becoming oversensitive about the back to the office battle, but headlines like ‘Chancellor lauds benefits of the office’ and ‘Go back to the office if you want to get on, says Rishi Sunak’ suggest that nothing has really fundamentally changed through Covid, even though the Chancellor seems to be addressing his remarks solely to young people.
I have some sympathy with his argument that young people need mentors and that it can be hard to pick up a new job when you can’t see other people doing it. But that would require other people to be in the office too. So it’s not just about young people and having a social life through work, which is, of course, another important factor.
I’m not against the office either. I’ve done remote, I’ve done office-based, I’ve done hybrid working. All have their pros and cons. The problem for me is that the way the argument is pitched is not progressive or equal and often doesn’t recognise the cons of the office. It basically infers that only those who work in the office are go getters and that the rest don’t care about their careers and are effectively ‘uncommitted’, thus sidelining a growing segment of the working population.
Mums have been held back for years with this idea that, as soon as they have children, their ‘commitment’ falls off a cliff. I’ve never been more committed if committed means overcoming many hurdles just to get to work and through the working day. Working remotely doesn’t make me less committed. The opposite. It’s just a question of logistics. In the absence of proper affordable childcare and because I don’t want to waste precious time with the kids on trains or stress because a signal failure means I’ve missed pick-up time, working from home makes it all easier so I can do my job better.
What I object to with all the headlines is that they cement a two-tier system where those in the office are seen and get ahead and those who aren’t don’t. The whole point of moving to a more hybrid or remote model is that you have to rethink all aspects of how you work and that includes career progression. In fact, I’d put career progression at the heart of it all. There have to be other ways to do progression than presenteeism. Yet that is the message all these headlines give. Go remote and give up on your career. That is what has happened to many women over the years and the fear of it is what has prevented many men from going remote or hybrid [couples often can’t afford for both members’ careers to tank], which has meant women have had to be the main carer – because they are more at home – with the knock-on impact on their careers and on men’s ability to spend time with their kids.
People were hoping that would change after the pandemic. But how can it if we still have the same mentality and are not open to different ways of doing things? Many people don’t read much past the headlines. The message in the headlines is what you absorb. Let’s hope we haven’t wasted the whole remote working experiment only to reconfirm the status quo when it comes to who gets promoted.