IT Brief Australia - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
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IWD 2024: Remote work breaks down borders and bias
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

In setting the foundation for a thriving workplace, creating a sense of belonging is a powerful catalyst for team performance and individual productivity.

Organisations that fail to foster an inclusive culture often face restrictions, particularly as they expand and build a diverse global team.

Greater flexibility can help women achieve better work-life balance and find belonging in their careers, as we've seen at Remote across numerous companies operating globally.

However, the circumstances driving greater remote work adoption in recent years pose a threat to women's employment and leadership opportunities, as governments and employers have yet to deliver equal economic opportunities, safety, and belonging for women.

Challenges remote work solves for working women
Women often find themselves dealing with frustrating obstacles caused by systemic barriers and societal biases. These issues hinder not only their advancement opportunities but also their overall mental wellbeing.

Addressing these issues is crucial to advocating for women at work and fostering an inclusive and equitable environment for them.

Lacking leadership representation
Despite the rise of remote work and the potential for greater flexibility, female representation in leadership positions remains significantly lower than male representation, as does support for female-founded businesses.

According to a 2023 report from Catalyst, women held just 8.2 per cent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies last year.

This imbalance fuels a system in which women's voices and perspectives are underrepresented and undervalued, emphasising the need for systemic change to create equal opportunities for career advancement within global organisations.

Similarly, women are struggling to access support at a grassroots level. While 22% of startups operating in Australia in 2023 were founded by women, they secured just 0.7 percent of the early-stage funding secured by businesses. This lack of support discourages women from pursuing positions of responsibility and power, perpetuating the systemic lack of opportunity to compete with male counterparts for leadership roles.

However, expanding remote work opportunities has created a unique opportunity for women in the workforce to progress in their careers. Challenging traditional views of workplace structure opens opportunities for women to strive for executive positions, particularly as rapid change demands flexibility in leadership processes.

Workplace attitudes and gender bias
Of course, the struggle for women to find belonging in the workforce is nothing new. Women have always faced tougher obstacles than their male counterparts at work due to factors ranging from unconscious bias to outright prejudice and more complex socioeconomic forces.

The gender bias and deep-rooted attitudes that perpetuate inequality have hindered women's progress and limited their access to opportunities for far too long.

For every 100 men promoted from entry-level roles to manager positions, only 87 women are promoted, and this number drops to 73 for women of colour, according to McKinsey 2023 Women in the Workplace report.

Prevailing attitudes from male leaders and society at large have acted as roadblocks for women in business and leadership positions.

Statistics from the UN Women Gender Equality Attitudes Study reveal that a shocking 52% of adolescent men and 54% of adult men still believe that women should work less and devote more time to caring for their families.

The key is to acknowledge the gaps and ensure that the current crisis is not a step back but a leap forward. Remote work can help create a more inclusive and equitable work culture that dismantles existing biases and stereotypes.

Physical office dynamics can perpetuate challenges facing women, including gendered expectations, unconscious biases in decision-making, and limited opportunities for networking and mentorship.This is further complicated when considering office politics, where women have a harder time navigating because of implicit biases, especially in male-dominated industries.

On the other hand, remote work provides an environment where employees are evaluated based on their work, skills, and contributions, removing appearance-based expectations and enabling women to find their voice within their team.

Work-life balance
Traditional gender roles, wherein women are expected to shoulder more burden of the household and caregiving responsibilities, demands further compromise from women wanting to progress to more demanding roles in their careers. This labour is also often expected in the office, where women may find themselves disproportionately burdened with office housework such as taking meeting notes, organising social events, or handling administrative tasks, which can detract from their ability to focus on career advancement opportunities.

More hours spent on unpaid labour than male peers, combined with long commute times, has made balancing professional advancement, family, and personal wellness a challenge for women required to work exclusively from the office.

Despite an increase in Australian women's average paid working hours in recent years, men have failed to increase their unpaid contribution to home work in the same proportion. Women are almost five times more likely than men to feel rushed or pressed for time, often citing family demands as a key reason for their lower leisure time.

Remote work gives women more control over their time, enabling them to better balance their professional and personal responsibilities, and reducing negative wellbeing outcomes including fatigue and burnout. In fact, 76% of women in the tech industry have said remote work is important for companies to retain their staff.

Remote work has also shown positive impacts on career experience for women. According to the 2023 McKinsey Women in the Workplace Report, 83% of employees report higher productivity when working remotely, with women also reporting fewer microaggressions in their workplace experience.

This research highlights the empowering effect of remote work for women, empowering them to confidently seek leadership roles while offering the flexibility to manage these roles alongside traditional unpaid responsibilities.

Instead of measuring employees by what they look like or by how many hours they spend in the office, remote work puts the focus on output and achieving goals, allowing women to shine. In remote roles, women can advance based on the quality of their work instead of outdated notions of what leadership is supposed to look like.

Employer responsibility
As remote and hybrid work practices become more commonplace for businesses operating in Australia, organisations have a responsibility to update their employment policies and processes to reflect equal opportunity for advancement and development.

Inclusive policies can reflect flexibility to support family commitments, asynchronous work practices that focus on output instead of availability, facilitating virtual community-building activities, providing equal opportunities for advancement and skill development, and expanding hiring opportunities to new geographic locations.