Just because a lot of jobs are now being performed from home doesn’t mean that the gender biases often found in the office space have suddenly disappeared. If anything, remote work has exacerbated previous gender inequities at home.
As reported by the Harvard Business Review, mothers are more likely to do most of the household labor, childcare, and homeschooling, spending as much as 20 hours a week more compared to co-working fathers. Women report feeling the need to be “always-on,” concerned that their job performance will be negatively evaluated, and unable to confide in colleagues about remote-work challenges. It’s also alarming that one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce altogether due to the strain of working remotely during the pandemic.
During this difficult time (or any time really), male colleagues must be aware of how women experience work and try to help overcome any prevailing gender inequities. In the office, that might involve confronting other men when biased or sexist comments are made or ensuring that women have a seat (and a nameplate) at the table.
However, now that we’re working remotely, the ways that men can support their female colleagues are bound to look different. That’s why we’re sharing four key strategies that male allies can deploy now to empower women and stem the loss of talented women from the workforce.
Include and sponsor women: Whether you notice it or not, many women receive subtle or perhaps overt signals that they are not really part of the team and that no one has their backs. Since a woman’s conception of themselves is often defined by interpersonal relationships, such exclusion experiences can cause loneliness and attrition from the workplace. And without much face-to-face time in the remote working life, that sense of isolation can be exacerbated.
For that reason, it’s important male colleagues share time generously with the women they work with. Reach out and inquire how they are faring in the remote-work situation. Invite conversation, check-in often, and get back to them quickly when they reach out with questions or issues. Instead of an open-door policy, have an “open-phone/video-conference” policy, making it clear you’re available for impromptu conversations. As more and more women consider leaving the workforce, it can really make a difference when men recognize the great work women are doing and overtly reinforce their value to the organization.
Ensure women’s voices are heard in meetings: It’s important to be aware of the tendency for men to dominate conversations during a meeting. The next time you are in a virtual meeting, look for an opportunity to toss the conversation over to a woman on your team and acknowledge her as an expert in a given topic. HBR offers this piece of exemplary dialogue: “Anyway, that’s my two cents, but Mary has way more experience in this area than I do. What do you think, Mary?”
Practice transparency: The pandemic has forced many companies to make tough decisions like whether or not to close physical offices, or to reduce work hours. If you suddenly hear about those decisions without having been a part of the decision-making process, you will likely feel left out or worried about what’s to come—after all, if you didn’t see one decision coming, then you might be on-edge about another big decision happening without you knowing.
Unfortunately, it is often men who pull back the curtain on information and processes that often are hidden from women. When intel is less accessible to women, whether it concerns pay, benefits, flex-work arrangements, or promotion opportunities, this perpetuates gender inequities in the workplace. If such intel is being transmitted in private conversations, emails, and video gatherings, be sure to pass it along to women who are not on the invite list. More broadly, consider how this information could be discussed in open settings such as virtual town halls, Zoom meetings, virtual lunches, online fireside chats, and webinars.
Evenly distribute virtual office housework: Research shows women volunteer for non-promotable tasks more often than men and are far more likely to be directly asked to take them on. Even if common office tasks, such as getting coffee, have evaporated in the remote-working world, there are plenty of these kinds of tasks that remain, such as planning virtual events or taking notes during an online meeting.
Work to develop a fair and equitable approach to distributing mundane virtual meeting chores and annoying administrative duties that detract from more career-enhancing activities. Maybe, for both men and women, it’s a simple rotational schedule that fairly determines who takes notes, monitors time, or produces the next meeting agenda.