The Hybrid Workplace Can Be Unfair to Women — Here's How You Can Help

A Black woman works from home on a laptop with daughter by her side

Women with children are twice as likely as men to prefer working from home, and they are also less likely to receive a promotion or pay increase while working remotely. Here's what employers can do to resolve issues of gender inequity in a hybrid workplace.

Of the many lessons learned during the pandemic, the value and practicality of remote work is near the top of the list. With many large employers committing to more permanent remote work schedules and others rapidly creating policies and practices catered to both remote employees and employees working on site, it's clear that the workforce of the future is hybrid.

However, while a hybrid workplace may come with numerous benefits, it could also present some challenges — especially for women with children.

Working women with children are more likely to prefer remote work

According to Harvard Business Review, working women with children are 50% more likely to prefer working from home than men. Working mothers may prefer remote work for many reasons, with the foremost being the opportunity for better work/life integration.

The proportion of women to men working remotely isn't the problem; the concern is how the new hybrid workplace could create more opportunities for existing bias to harm women and present new barriers to success. In the same research, HBR found that remote employees had a 50% lower rate of promotion compared to their colleagues working in the office, which suggests that women working remotely with children at home may be at risk of falling even further behind in the business world.

Pay and promotion gender gaps could grow

This isn't just predicted to happen — it's happening now. During the pandemic, 34% of men working remotely with children at home received a promotion, compared to just 9% of women in the same situation, according to a study by Qualtrics and theBoardlist. The same study found that, among remote workers, men received a pay increase twice as often as women, at a rate of 26% compared to 13%. Employers bear the responsibility for investigating these inequities and ensuring that women are not being passed over for advancement for reasons unrelated to work performance and potential.

Hybrid workforce dynamics could allow inequities to pervade

The possibility of in group/out group culture presents concerns for all people working remotely. In organizations where these attitudes and behaviors are allowed to prevail, women will face greater challenges around being heard in meetings, becoming involved in important projects, and maintaining the same access to leadership opportunities that their in-office counterparts enjoy. These issues are particularly important in the current business setting, where data shows that men are overrepresented in senior leadership positions that were barely affected by COVID-19.

If your organization's leaders aren't watching closely for signs of trouble, the hybrid workplace could make it easier for people to exercise bias against women, people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community or anyone else whom they don't view as equal.

Committing to understanding why women were impacted so much more by the global health crisis can help employers develop practices and policies that improve circumstances and outcomes for women in the workplace. Sharing ideas between organizations and industries to help identify new strategies for supporting women's advancement will undoubtedly be integral to these efforts. That was precisely the aim of the recent Women@Work virtual summit hosted by ADP during which experts and leaders addressed the tough issues women face and shared advice for organizations aiming to promote gender equity.

How employers can protect women working remotely

Employers need to take a proactive approach to preventing and solving issues for women employees whenever possible. Begin by auditing remote work policies and practices to look for implicit bias and opportunities for abuse. Use regular check-ins with all employees to gain a real understanding of team dynamics as well as the feelings and concerns of individual team members. Ask each employee what kind of support they need to bring their best self to work. Providing this support could be as complex as offering more flexible working hours or as simple as not requiring video on conference calls.

Most importantly, be prepared to act on what you learn. Outline clear consequences for anyone violating the rules, and be transparent and proactive about providing additional support for employees who are feeling excluded. If your culture includes an expectation of equity regardless of work status or location and you lead with that mindset, people will be more likely to follow your example. Those who have concerns will also feel more secure and safe about speaking up if they know their complaints will be heard and taken seriously.

In many workplaces, attitudes are shifting in ways that have the potential to improve working conditions for women — and, indeed, for all working parents. ADP's Chief Economist, Nela Richardson, spoke with CNN's Christine Romans during the Women@Work conference, and they agreed that employers now have a greater appreciation for the mental health and family needs of employees than they did before the emergence of COVID-19.

"The way we think about work is changing," Richardson said. "As soon as you had men start leaving work early to pick up the kids, it changed the culture and became more accepted." The shift toward greater understanding and appreciation of workers' needs is inspiring many employers to launch wellness programs, find ways to offer childcare support and increase flexibility for employees with families.

Ensuring an equitable workplace every day

Building a diverse workforce where each employee feels safe and confident must be an ongoing process. Employers bear the responsibility of examining their policies and practices, remaining on the lookout for early signs of issues and taking swift action to remedy problems once they are identified.

Ensuring an equitable workplace is as much a cultural issue as it is a procedural one, and it will require leaders to spend quality time getting to know each employee to understand what is important to them. As the hybrid workplace becomes an essential aspect of business, it's more important than ever to pay attention to the experience of women who work remotely with children at home to ensure that they can continue to contribute equally to the success of your business.

Interested in learning what else was discussed during the Women@Work Summit? You can watch the entire program on demand.