Does hybrid work help or harm women in the workplace?

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“My boss has been very generous,” says Emily, an accountant. “We can work from home or come to the office whenever we want. ”

After 18 months of running a house full of children, during which time she was put on leave, fired and then started a new role, Emily is delighted to be back. “It’s great to start meeting people and having days when I don’t also clean, feed and manage the kids,” she says.

For now, her children’s school maintains carefully staggered start and end times Covid, so they have six pick-up or drop-off slots per day for their three boys: that means each school run includes 20 minutes of waiting time: a total of more than three hours per week. In addition, there is always reduced capacity in breakfast clubs and after school. To try to make it work, Emily chose two days when she will still be in the office, while her husband will be at his workplace the other three days.

Everything seems achievable – until it doesn’t.

“The very first day I got dressed and my husband suddenly announced that he had to enter because an emergency meeting of the whole team had been called. Because mine [office time] was ‘optional’, I had to retire at the last minute and felt really fluffy. Most people have never met me, ”she says.

“Then, because I had missed that day, my boss suggested that I make up for a day that I hadn’t planned – when my husband was at work – so I begged frantically for babysitting and I was completely stressed. ”

Like many women I talk to, Emily is concerned about how these new ways of working will work in practice, especially if they are seen as the “parent by default”. At the height of the pandemic, many women reported that their partner’s work took precedence over theirs, as they were almost expected to reduce their hours or withdraw from the workplace to go to school. at home. Working mothers were only able to manage one hour of uninterrupted paid work for three hours worked by men during the first lockdown.

Many women fear that their workplace will become more male-dominated than before and create a two-tier system in which women are the losers.

It has been claimed that some large organizations – including the civil service, Google, and at least one city law firm – may pay lower salaries than those who are permanently home-based, even if they do exactly the same. same works. If the contracts mention, for example, wages based on the “London weight”, this could well be legal, although it could be disputed if it mainly affects women. The reports of the treats that many companies are offering to get people back into the workplace – including free food, exercise classes, and cash rewards – can also disproportionately benefit men.

Another risk for women is the end of the holiday on September 30. A report by the Women’s Budget Group, based on HMRC data, indicates that 200,000 more women than men were on leave at the end of February 2021. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that mothers were also 23% more likely than fathers to have temporarily or permanently lost their jobs and 47% more likely to have permanently lost their job or to have quit during the first lockdown.

Some believe the leave scheme has been used against them: A single mother talks about being put on leave for the second time immediately after her nursery was closed due to Covid cases and her young son was sent home. She thinks it was her boss who punished her for what he perceived to be her “lack of concentration” and thinks they will fire her as soon as the scheme is over.

There is also a risk that those who have been put on leave or who have reduced their hours will not return as they might have hoped. Izzie, an interior designer, has been on leave since January and was due to return this month, but everyone else on the team, except for her manager, had been made redundant. She said it was obvious she had to find another role. She wanted to continue working three days a week but couldn’t find anything, so she went full time and as a result she feels “very torn” that her toddler is in daycare all week. . She also found the return exhausting. “The first two weeks I was commuting every day and, having been used to being home for so long, it was incredibly tiring,” she says. She doesn’t know how she will handle the role in the long run.

Joeli Brearley, who heads the Pregnant Then Screwed campaign organization, says: “A lot of people think this has been flexible working nirvana, but our free advice line has received double the number of calls regarding work-related issues. flexible. Our data shows that we’ve gone from about half of all refused flexible work requests to 71 percent. She notes that “flexible work” is often used as a shortcut for remote work, rather than part-time, which many women need when childcare is uneven.

“Right now, only eight percent of UK job listings mention part-time options,” agrees Melissa Jamieson, CEO of flexible work consultancy Timewise, which released a report showing that more part-time workers lost their jobs than full-time workers. “Thousands of people want such jobs, but the market has not taken notice of the evolution of work. She says it would be a game-changer for women, especially since child care services are still operating at reduced levels. “We risk dividing into ‘flex haves and flex have nots’.”

Women know there are benefits to returning to the workplace: the challenge is to ensure that this is possible in practice. Forward-thinking organizations ask women what they need to be able to present themselves at the same pace as men. Some are surprised that predictability can be more important than total flexibility.

At the end of my conversation with Emily, her husband enters the Zoom call as he returns from the office. I ask him what he thinks of his return. “It’s good!” he beams, “I can concentrate”.

Emily takes a look at her scattered kitchen surfaces: “This time of change is really tough,” she says. “But we have to use the desks at least part of the time; if we don’t, they’ll shut them all down and we’ll never get them back.

Women Mean Business Live takes place on October 20, 2021 as a virtual event. It will bring together business leaders and entrepreneurs for a day of action, debate and networking to overcome the barriers that too often prevent women-led businesses and professionals from reaching their full potential.

Speakers will include NatWest CEO Alison Rose, Kate Bingham, Anya Hindmarch, Julia Gillard and Whitney Wolfe Herd, as well as Lisa Armstrong and Camilla Tominey of the Telegraph.

For more details and to buy tickets Click here.

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