The shift towards hybrid working could be holding back women’s career progression, as research suggests employers are overlooking people who spend more time working from home.
Experts have raised concerns that the post-Covid return to work is entrenching the gender pay and promotion gap, with employers failing to monitor its impact or properly design jobs for hybrid and remote working.
This especially affects women, who are more likely to choose flexible hours or work from home for childcare reasons. Male managers are significantly more likely to mostly or completely work from the office (48% v 38%), according to a survey of 1,300 managers from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).
Two in five (40%) managers surveyed said they had already observed opinion or behaviours suggesting an inequality between those who work flexibly and those whodo not. Female managers were more likely than their male counterparts to believe hybrid working could negatively affect career progression.
Anthony Painter, the director of policy at the CMI, said: “Women could end up in a lose-lose situation if employers aren’t careful, needing to balance work and home life through flexible working but missing out on many opportunities that arise through in-person office interaction. That is intolerable and damaging for women and employers alike.”
The CMI’s findings were echoed in a recent Deloitte Women at Work report, which found 60% of female hybrid workers felt they had been excluded from meetings, while almost half worried that they did not get the exposure to leaders necessary for career progression.
Female hybrid workers reported more instances of being excluded from informal but important interactions and conversations, being given opportunities to speak in meetings, and having colleagues take credit for their ideas.
Prof Rosie Campbell, the director of King’s College London’s Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, said the impact of hybrid working on female career advancement was something she was “concerned about”, and it required more research.
She said hybrid working could worsen the existing “two-tier workforce” for those who work flexibly and get “stuck in the mommy track”, unable to progress in their careers, by creating a “three-tier workforce” of people who are in the office all the time, those who are hybrid, and those who are fully remote.
She said there was huge variability between employers in terms of how visibility, “presenteeism” and overwork affect promotion opportunities. “Anecdotally it seems in male-dominated sectors with high prestige such as financial services, there is real pressure to get into the office as many days as possible, and I think that’s deliberately exclusionary,” she said.
The solution, she suggested, was for hybrid jobs to be carefully designed rather than allowed to develop on their own, “because existing inequalities might be reinforced”.
Sarah Forbes, a senior lecturer at the University of York and co-director of the Equal Parenting Project, said flexible working risked reverting to pre-pandemic levels unless more men were persuaded to work from home.
“Even before Covid-19, flexible working had some negative impacts on women’s careers. Until both men and women are as likely to use all forms of flexible working, women will experience stigma,” she said.
There is also a “real class divide” between those who can access flexible work, said Nikki Pound, a women’s officer at the Trades Union Congress. Office workers, who are typically in higher-paid, professional roles, have gained more flexibility since the pandemic, while shift workers, for example in healthcare, retail and hospitality, are increasingly forced to accept shift patterns that benefit their employer’s needs rather than their own.
“We want to make it the norm for everyone, whether you have caring responsibilities, or to manage sickness or disability,” Pound said.