How hybrid working can empower women in the workplace

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Hybrid working is a flexible work model that supports a blend of in-office, remote, and on-the-go workers. It offers employees the autonomy to choose to work wherever and however they are most productive.

Whichever way you look at it, hybrid working has emerged as an important driver of empowerment for the female workforce, both globally and in India. This is being driven by a flexible work culture introduced by hybrid working that has accelerated post the pandemic and is making both, the workplace, and workspaces more attractive to women. In the Indian context, this assumes significance because the female labor force participation rate has continued to fall over the last three decades and assumes even greater relevance given that the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news however is that India is likely to see a jump in its urban women’s workforce by 10 percent in 2022. By this estimate, the available employable talent pool of women will increase to approximately 92 million in urban India. Research from McKinsey shows that women’s roles were 1.8 times more vulnerable in the pandemic than men’s – but it is not just job losses that have affected women’s careers over the past two years. It is estimated that housework in India for women increased by almost 30-40 percent during the pandemic. This led to a larger number of women either dropping out or reducing their involvement in the workplace. For the hybrid model to work optimally, employers need to take a people-led approach – empowering employees to make their own decisions about how and where they work best. For women with families or child-rearing responsibilities who have continued working or are seeking to get back to the workplace, the benefits of hybrid working cannot be ignored. It offers them the best of both worlds – the ability to be close to their homes and families without compromising on work productivity or professional growth. No longer faced with an either/or situation, hybrid working now empowers them with more choices and opportunities than before, both at the workplace and at home.

The value of women in the workforce

There is no debating the tremendous economic value that women bring to businesses, markets, and entire economies. According to a Bloomberg analysis, improving women’s access to employment could boost global growth by $20 trillion by 2050, and PwC argues that closing the gender pay gap could increase the GDP of OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) member countries by $2 trillion. Yet, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected women – partly because of existing gender inequalities in society. A Gallup poll shows that women’s feelings of burnout have increased during the pandemic and that the gender gap has widened, with women now significantly more exhausted than their male counterparts. The good news is that organizations realize the value of women in the workforce, with many already wondering what they can do to support their female employees in the months and years ahead. And offering flexibility is emerging as a key tool.

Hybrid working and holistic change

Hybrid working – the post-pandemic model now favored by millions of people and the firms that employ them – is a keyway to combat the so-called ‘she-cession’. It has unprecedented potential to support women’s wellbeing, family lives and career aspirations. By enabling employees to split their time between home, local flex space or office and their central HQ, firms can boost their productivity and growth at the same time as helping to improve work-life balance for their workforce, especially women. Already adopted around the world by companies as diverse as Meta, Standard Chartered and KPMG, the hybrid model offers an array of benefits. Fewer long commutes mean employees can reclaim quality time with family and friends. The division of time between home, the corporate HQ and a local flexible workspace have advantages for women who are in situations where, pre-COVID-19, caring responsibilities and domestic work fell mostly on their shoulders. In a hybrid world, balancing the demands of work and home is made easier. Perhaps more importantly, where both partners can work in a hybrid manner and undertake an equal share of household chores and childcare, a levelling of the playing field is possible. While women may find new freedom and energy to step up at work, their partners – whatever their gender – will be able to enjoy more involvement at home.

 Putting people first

Companies must create clear hybrid working plans if they want to ensure the new world of work is a fairer place for women. Flexibility needs to become ingrained in work culture – it should not be seen as something that needs to be ‘earned’.   This is important when seen in the context of the old-fashioned 9-5 that left many women feeling stigmatized for leaving the office in time to be with their families or pick-up their children. An ill-defined hybrid strategy could leave remote female workers feeling similarly pitted against male colleagues who are more frequently seen in the office.

 As the world comes around to working despite and around COVID-19, the world of work has reached a seminal moment. While the seeds for the demise of old-fashioned office life were sown decades ago, it took a global pandemic to prove what many of us already knew: that digital connectivity means we can be productive from anywhere, any time. The hybrid model is not only transforming working life but is also playing a decisive role in enabling gendered divisions of labor to fade away. As this happens, a greater number of employers are embracing ‘the whole person’ at work via hybrid strategies that are flexible enough to allow for parents’ evenings and medical appointments, but clear enough to ensure productivity is maintained or even improved.

A young workforce is more at risk of quitting if asked to return to the office full-time. Hybrid working improves recruitment and retention cycles, for men and women both, which helps boost productivity, support healthy company culture, and bolster the bottom line. It will potentially de-risk employers from high attrition rates commonly seen among millennials. For women, some of whom often feel they are expected to work as if they have no family, and parent as though they have no job – the benefits of this new openness and flexibility are both important and welcome. If executed well, the hybrid model has the power to transform the work lives of women, as much as it is helping deliver lasting change for all.

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