Has remote working been good or bad for women? Discuss.
Will women benefit from remote and hybrid working? Like most things these days, it’s impossible to tell. While reports warn of lack of visibility and the impact on promotion and pay, others talk about the wellbeing and work life balance bonus. The truth is the lack of visibility problem with home working is nothing new and the only way it will change is if it becomes more the norm and is not confined to just the people who need to do it – which tends to be the primary care givers, which tends to be women. The signs so far are good for the leading employers, but it’s far too early to tell how it’s all going to pan out.
I was having a conversation with someone the other night and she said homeworking has been dire for women. It means they have to do all the care stuff and work and work long hours, often in insecure work such as freelancing and often for lower pay because they are supposed to be grateful for just being allowed to keep working. All of which I have most definitely seen.
But the alternative is often not great either. You may get better pay, but the stress levels of constantly being on the run and never having enough time for anyone – unless you go part time and often end up doing a full-time job in part-time hours for part-time pay – are not fantastic. Maybe you share the care more, but that is definitely not always the case.
I know there is a happy medium and that remote working covers a wide variety of things and situations, that more families are sharing care more evenly and that it is possible to progress in some organisations on part-time hours, but it needs to be much easier. A report out this week warns that part-time work and flexible working other than remote working have fallen in the last year. Yet many women working remotely struggle and still need flexibility. Creating an us and them divide between remote desk-based workers and everyone else is surely a recipe for division and discontent.
The problem is that we are still in a period of transition to the kind of flexibility that employees both want and need and to the kind of flexibility that will enable organisations to adapt to a disruptive future and attract the people they need. All these years on, many workplaces, childcare, legislation and so much more are still not keeping up with people’s actual lives and are semi-stuck in an old model that doesn’t work any more.
Hopefully, by the time my children have children – if they do – things on the flexible work front will be easier and they will have more options. Nevertheless, I personally don’t regret a single minute of working from home, though I’ve been lucky to have a job or a portfolio of jobs that I’ve enjoyed. I don’t regret it even if it has been stressful at times [interviewing someone in the toilets during the school disco…] and I have been overstretched. And even if I’m not a CEO of a major corporation or even close. However, I sometimes wonder if the very skills I have developed as a parent and through life are just those that a CEO should have.
I have worked harder than ever before, but I have been able to see my kids in their plays and at sports days, to pick them up when they have done the splits without warming up and can barely walk, to take them on late afternoon excursions to nowhere in particular in the holidays, to drive home with everyone singing along to One Direction and discussing what blood group Harry is, to hear all about their days even if – especially if – they have been really bad, to police sibling disputes while simultaneously writing a news article and cooking dinner, and no amount of extra pay would ever make up for sacrificing that time. Because time is what it’s all about.
Which doesn’t for one second mean that I am not wholly committed to people being paid fairly for the work they do and being promoted on the basis of merit. What is needed is a whole rethink about what matters to people.
Life is short – for some all too short. You never know what will happen. Everything you thought was stable can disappear in an instant. You have to embrace the things that make your life sing.