Gender inequality and the hybrid workplace

In the corporate world, where gender inequality is already prevalent in many forms, the hybrid work model may go against women

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There are conversations going on in the organisations about which working model fits best — a 100 per cent work-from-office model, or a fully remote working model. Many employers are afraid to take the extreme route, and instead, prefer to find a middle path, that is, a model that allows employees to work partly from office and partly from home.

In India, the lion’s share of domestic workload is shouldered by the women of the house. They are expected to juggle the house work, including handling the kitchen and children, along with their professional commitments. A LinkedIn opportunity index report published this year stated that almost 85 per cent of women miss out on promotions and pay raise because of their gender. As per the same report, almost 71 per cent of working women and mothers feel that the major reason for this is familial responsibilities. In fact, a global report also shows that more working mothers make use of flexible working benefits at work than the men. That means, men get more face time at work and are more likely to get promotions or be part of important projects. The women, on the other hand, lose out on precious opportunities to excel at work. How is this connected to the hybrid work model, the topic we set out to discuss?

“As an organisation, we will have to invest in the right technology to enable and foster the hybrid work model, which promotes and boosts employee productivity and connect. The appraisal system also needs to be output-based — measured on potential and performance”

Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries

Gender inequality

When we say that the hybrid work model is the future of the workplace, we are accepting that there will be a lot of flexibility in the future. Will not this flexi model put women employees in the back seat?

Women are the primary caregivers at home, and they are also the ones who take on the larger share of the household work. Naturally, it is more likely that more women will be expected to avail flexible working benefits as compared to men, who can enjoy these benefits even while working from office. Therefore, it is more likely to lead to more gender inequality, which already exists at the workplace. If anything, the inequality or gap will only widen with the hybrid work model in place.

“This is the real problem that workplaces will face in the future, since many employers are opting for the hybrid working model,” says Ranjith Menon, SVP-HR, Hinduja Global Solutions. In fact, Menon also believes that if employers fail to pay attention to this situation where women are more likely to be at a disadvantage, gender inequality and gap is likely to keep widening.

Begin with the organisational culture

According to Menon, gender equality should be demonstrated first at home itself. He agrees that women end up shouldering more of the domestic responsibilities, while their career takes a backseat. “We will have to reset the division of labour or work at home, so that men and women share the responsibility of stepping up to take family responsibilities, equally,” suggests Menon, but this is only action at a personal level. How can companies bring about a change at the workplace?

From an organisation’s point of view, culture should promote equal opportunities for both genders. “First and foremost, it is the culture of the organisation that should demonstrate equal opportunities for all. Only then will the policies made around them prove to be useful,” asserts Menon.

“Gender equality gaps is the real problem that workplaces will face in the future, since many employers are opting for the hybrid working model”

Ranjith Menon, SVP-HR, Hinduja Global Solutions

When companies come up with policies of parental leaves or other benefits, typically meant for women, they should ensure they are gender agnostic. For instance, Diageo recently announced equal parental leaves for all genders and equal medical leave benefits too, making the policy truly gender inclusive.

Women leaders should show the way

Another key aspect is that women leadership at the organisation should become the role models for this movement. “If women leaders set an example and demonstrate that they can be professionally successful, irrespective of whether they work from home or office, they will be able to motivate other women employees,” shares Menon.

Talking to HRKatha, Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries, shares that the Company’s women mentorship programme involves senior women leaders counselling all women employees on the challenges that come with balancing home and work.

On the other hand, Pia Shome, chief people officer, U Gro Capital, believes that employers and managers have to become mature enough to understand that whether a woman professional works remotely or from office, she needs to be measured in terms of the output and rewarded accordingly. This will ensure a woman’s success at work. In fact, Shome cites an example of one of her friends who is also an HR head for the APAC region in a company and manages her entire work remotely. “There are numerous instances of employers who have achieved gender equality at work in any situation. So, it is all about having more conversations around this at the workplace and managers showing the maturity to recognise good talent, irrespective of where they are working from,” points out Shome.

Investment in technology

In fact, Shome herself enjoys working from home and feels no disconnect from the workplace because of technology, which she feels only ensures seamless connection. That is not all, Shome appreciates her forever supportive colleagues who make themselves available and accessible at all times.

“Solution is to have more conversations around how we can promote gender inclusivity at the workplace and managers showing the maturity to recognise good talent, irrespective of where they are working from”

Pia Shome, chief people officer, U Gro Capital

“As an organisation, we will have to invest in the right technology to enable and foster the hybrid work model, which promotes and boosts employee productivity and connect. The appraisal system also needs to be output-based — measured on potential and performance,” explains Mukherjee.

While employers are seriously considering the hybrid work model for their organisations, for the long term, they should also take care not to ignore the women in the workforce. They should take the responsibility to ensure that their women employees do not lag behind, and for that, they need to act now. Drawing out suitable plans right away can assure great results, because the issue of gender inequality increasing in a hybrid work setting is a real thing. The impact may not be immediately visible, but three to four years down the line it will be.

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