We know that working from home can harm women’s careers. The issue is how to fix that, not a return to a ‘normal’ that does not work for many.
“Working from home may hurt women’s careers, says Bank of England’s Mann” said the headlines at the end of last week. As if it was news.
Women who have been working from home for years are well aware of the dangers. The thing is not that this is happening and that working flexibly is something to fear, but what to do to address it and ensure flexible workers are treated equally. The assumption is that we should all just return to the office and get on with working as normal as if not working from home is going to solve all the issues that we face.
The reason mums and carers have left the office over the years is not just because technology has enabled it, but because working at the office five days a week is a straitjacket which often makes the rest of their lives so stressful that it is just not possible.
How many women have left full-time office jobs with career prospects over the last decade, for instance, because of a lack of flexibility, whether that is to find – usually – less well paid jobs with little or no career progression, to set up their own business or freelance or simply to take time out only to struggle to get back to work on anything approaching what they did before their break? How many times do we have to make the point that the ‘normal’ 9-5 in the office, which is usually a lot more than 9-5, simply does not work if you have primary responsibility for children?
The solution is not a return to ‘normality’ as all these articles seem to assume, getting the women – because it is still generally women – to twist and turn to fit into a system that doesn’t work for them or only works for the few who have expensive childcare solutions, enlightened partners who don’t face similar pressures or family on tap.
The solution is to put in place and actively promote policies that encourage sharing childcare from the offset, that open up flexible working to everyone, that normalise flexible working, that monitor the progress of flexible workers to ensure they don’t get stuck, that include them in all aspects of work, that listen to them and that don’t assume that traditional ways of working are the norm for career progression.
Without constant monitoring and action it is all too easy to slip back to ‘normality’ and normality just doesn’t work for many people.