Women In Hybrid & Remote Work Era

The workplace has undergone a seismic shift in recent years, where the boundaries between work and life blur. Flexibility in the workplace is no longer just a perk but a necessity, and the Women in the Workplace 2023 report by McKinsey brings to light some crucial insights into this transformation.
While flexibility has taken centre stage, it’s not just about remote work or hybrid models. For women, it’s about empowerment, overcoming challenges, and battling microaggressions in the corporate world.
However, the report also highlights that the journey to gender equality is far from over, and flexibility in the form of hybrid or remote work is at the heart of this transformation. To delve deeper into these issues, SheThePeople exclusively spoke with seven working professionals from various backgrounds to gain a better understanding of how flexibility affects women’s lives.
From Arundhati’s advertising finesse to Himanshi’s HR expertise and the unique journeys of Shrishti, Damini, Shriya, Vartika, and Priya, it’s clear that the impact of microaggressions in the workplace and the value of flexibility extend far beyond mere convenience.
McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2023 report sheds light on key findings that reveal the challenges women face in their career progression. While top-level progress is evident, women at the manager and director levels encounter slow advancement, creating a fragile middle pipeline, notably marked by the “broken rung.” Contrary to the myth of declining ambition, the report shows that women’s ambitions are growing, especially among younger women.

Another concerning trend is the higher departure rate of women at the director level, which exacerbates the gender gap in top positions. Microaggressions further hinder progress. Additionally, the report underscores that flexible work benefits both men and women, playing a pivotal role in a company’s success. Our insights from interviews with seven diverse professionals support these findings.

Debunking Workplace Myths
The McKinsey Report paints a vivid picture of the corporate landscape and debunks four pervasive myths about women in the workplace, shedding light on the real challenges they face:
Myth 1: Women are becoming less ambitious
Contrary to this belief, women’s ambitions have surged, especially since the pandemic, with roughly 80 percent of women expressing their desire for career advancement. Young women, in particular, exhibit remarkable ambition, with nine in ten women under 30 aspiring to move up the corporate ladder. Flexibility has fueled this ambition, with one in five women attributing their ability to stay in their jobs to the flexibility offered. Many women working remotely report feeling less fatigued and more focused, dispelling the outdated notion that work and personal life are incompatible.
Damini, provides a unique perspective, having transitioned from remote to on-site work. She reflects on the gender dynamics in these settings. “I see that the ratio is kind of 50-50, which kind of gives me this idea that maybe women prefer remote jobs or hybrid jobs over on-site, especially when they are married and have this whole family to look forward to.” It’s this flexibility that empowers women to balance their professional and personal lives seamlessly.
For Priya Mishra, a PR professional, flexibility is not just a workplace benefit; it’s a societal change. “We need to understand that women have much more significant responsibilities, both professionally and personally,” she suggests.  She also underscores how the availability of remote and hybrid work models has opened doors for women who previously couldn’t pursue their careers due to logistical constraints, “I’m glad that this hybrid model or remote came because before this came into the picture, there were a lot of women who were not even working.” 
Myth 2: The biggest barrier to women’s advancement is the ‘glass ceiling’
In reality, the “broken rung” at the first critical step up to manager remains the most significant obstacle for women. For every 100 men promoted from entry-level to manager, only 87 women ascend to these roles. This disparity worsens for women of colour, with only 73 women of colour promoted to manager for every 100 men, highlighting the pressing need to address this “broken rung.”
 Vartika, working in an industry with a skewed gender ratio, points out that women’s career growth often slows during pivotal life stages, such as maternity. She points out that corporate environments, “often delay promotions for women who have taken maternity leave, affecting their career progression.”

With her experience in a TV newsroom, Shriya believes that women should be given more decision-making power and opportunities. “Women should not be discriminated against based on how they should be covering a story,” she states. Her insights call for a more equal and inclusive workspace.

The Ongoing Battle Against Microaggressions
Myth 3: Microaggressions have a ‘micro’ impact
Microaggressions, often rooted in bias, significantly impact women. These demeaning comments and actions, particularly targeted at women with traditionally marginalized identities, signal disrespect, cause acute stress, and negatively affect women’s careers and health. Women experiencing microaggressions are more likely to think about quitting their jobs and almost always feel burned out. By ignoring these issues, companies not only lose valuable talent but also risk eroding the well-being of their employees.
Shriya shared her experiences of facing challenges in the early stages of her career due to the lack of adequate transport facilities during early morning shifts. She had to fight for her rights and eventually succeeded in gaining recognition for her needs. 
Arundhati acknowledges that women in the workplace face more than just work-related challenges, “The slightest form of casual sexism takes a toll on new employees, especially.”  She advocates for a culture of appreciation and respect for all.

While the workplace is evolving, gender bias is still a prevalent issue. Damini believes, “It’s time for men to stop mansplaining and recognize that women deserve equal appreciation and opportunities”. Damini also highlights the uneven distribution of work, not just by men but also by women. “But sometimes it’s the women who put you down. They don’t really appreciate you when you do good, but they are always there to tell you something whenever you make a mistake.”  The corporate world needs to appreciate the value women bring to the table.

Hybrid and Remote Work: Beyond Flexibility
Myth 4: It’s mostly women who want—and benefit from—flexible work
The reality is that both men and women see flexibility as a top employee benefit. Workplace flexibility has become critical, ranking just below healthcare in importance. It is especially crucial for women, as it allows them to balance their responsibilities, but it benefits all employees. For women, it’s about more than just flexibility; it’s also about experiencing fewer microaggressions and greater psychological safety when working remotely.

Arundhati highlights the social aspect of on-site work and its role in building genuine connections. The workplace, she believes, isn’t just about tasks; it’s about relationships and camaraderie. However, Arundhati also recognizes that flexibility is a key driver of productivity, reducing the pressures associated with rigid work hours. “Flexibility makes you thrive. The mere idea that I don’t have any pressure upon me is so relaxing and that, in turn, fuels my productivity and my soul.”

The daily grind of long working hours takes a toll on everyone, and women are no exception. Himanshi, a mother who has juggled between remote, hybrid, and onsite jobs, explains, “It saves time; you don’t have to be stuck in traffic. I am more productive at home because travelling to the office on a daily basis makes me exhausted.”
Shriya’s journey through remote and on-site work offers unique insights. She highlights the advantages and challenges of each, stating, “Flexibility is important. It’s a top employee benefit, especially for women, because it’s about more than just money. Apart from that, there’s a whole life which each employee deserves to live.” She eloquently captures the essence of flexibility, emphasizing its holistic impact on an individual’s well-being.
Shrishti sees, “hybrid work as a game-changer for women”, promoting gender diversity and enabling better work-life balance. The ability to work remotely gives women the flexibility they need to excel in their careers.

Vartika brings a managerial perspective to the discussion and how people perceive flexibility. “The definition has changed pre-COVID and post-COVID. If you talk about flexibility, working from home was not even a concept pre-COVID. People were managing nine-to-five jobs, going to the office Monday to Friday, and working from home was never an option. This flexibility came into action only after COVID, and now we are at a stage where everyone has experienced both work environments. But now we feel that the best of both worlds can be given in flexibility. Both offsite and onsite can be included in flexibility. I think that will work well for all management levels, irrespective of gender.”

“Hybrid is the best because you get both,” suggests Vartika. “You can manage both commitments, communicate and socialize with people. It is always easier to get in the right direction while you are in the office rather than doing it virtually.”
Embracing The Future: Recommendations For Companies
The report suggests that companies should track outcomes for women’s representation by measuring outcomes, mining data for insights, taking an intersectional approach to tracking metrics and sharing internal goals and metrics with employees to drive change. Managers play a crucial role in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), ensuring employee well-being, and navigating flexible work. Companies should clarify managers’ priorities, include DEI in performance reviews, and reward results.

Vartika Talwar offers valuable insights into the core nature of women and how it can help them thrive in the workplace. “Women are nurturers by nature; all they need is a nurturing environment where they can nurture themselves and the organization at large. I think this alone will lead to a beautiful work environment that’ll make this world a better place, too.” Vartika emphasizes the importance of creating environments that acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of female employees.

As women continue to break barriers and redefine their roles in the workforce, the power of hybrid and remote work cannot be underestimated. The flexibility these models offer opens doors for women to excel professionally while balancing the complexities of their personal lives.
The path to gender equality in the workplace is multifaceted. Flexibility, especially in the form of hybrid or remote work, is a powerful tool in dismantling the barriers that women face. It’s not just about convenience; it’s about empowerment and balance. By recognizing and addressing microaggressions and fostering inclusive work environments, companies can empower women to reach their full potential. The road may be long, but these insights remind us that progress is possible, and flexibility plays a significant role in achieving it.

Suggested reading: Latest Report Busts 4 Current Myths About State Of Women At Work


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