Lack of access to flexible working is stifling the career growth of women in tech, and attitudes towards it are just as damaging
Zoe Morris says flexible working privileges need to be reassessed.
It isn’t new information that the tech sector suffers from a bias in gender representation, but to address this we need to explore and assess the things that keep women out of work, rather than simply making up the numbers.
While equal pay for equal work is something we’ve strived towards for years, it isn’t the only workplace inequality contributing to a woman’s plight. More than 2,500 people in the tech sector were recently surveyed and they found gender differences in desired employment benefits and access to benefits, with women consistently being short-changed.
Despite female professionals having a greater desire for home and flexible working, to the extent that not having this benefit would make them less likely to accept a job role, entitlement to these benefits is significantly lower than men.
Only 58% of women in the survey had access to home working, compared with 64% of men. Similarly, more than half of men (54%) enjoy flexible working hours, while only 42% of women had the option to work flexibly.
As disappointing as it is to see a difference in benefits entitlement, it’s even more discouraging given that women can spend around 22 hours a week cooking, cleaning, and caring for children and elderly family, in addition to their contracted working hours.
Even menstrual and menopausal issues can make a rigid working pattern really challenging for women, and this is often overlooked as something they should just accept.
Not having this flexibility to ease the strain on work-life balance could be a massive factor in career burnout for women in the tech sector. However, even those who do have the option of working flexibly face their own challenges.
Research from Heejung Chung found negative attitudes towards flexible working, with the sentiment that it will create more work for others - 39% associated negative outcomes with colleagues working flexibly. Of those who had worked flexibly, 39% had experienced negative consequences as a result of it, and 18% thought it had adversely impacted their career. Working mothers felt this negativity the most.
There’s a longstanding culture of presenteeism in business, but it’s becoming less relevant as we move closer to remote working and automation, where some tasks can be completed just as proficiently from the comfort of your home as they can from the office - research suggests the optimum level of engagement comes from spending three days a week working remotely.
Unfortunately, women seem to be considered less likely to stay focused and on task while working from home due to their outside-of-work responsibilities, effectively being punished for their gender and adopted caregiver role.
The recent Coronavirus outbreak has led to offices worldwide frantically assessing whether their business can cope with remote working, and educating staff on their available benefits and how they work. This is something we need to roll out as standard; employers should have a statement of benefits and know exactly when to lean on them and why.
There also needs to be an open discussion about this flexibility stigma and how damaging it can be to morale and staff retention. In moving towards equality, sometimes we fail to recognise that there are gender differences, and these naturally make our work-life balance different.
The underlying message is that everyone should have access to benefits that make their lives easier and subsequently their quality of work higher. If businesses can measure and demonstrate the benefits of remote and flexible working, this will go a long way in changing attitudes towards it.
About the author
Zoë Morris is president at Mason Frank International
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