IWD2022 Special Report: Does hybrid work help or hinder women’s tech careers?
A study by the UK Government’s Office of National Statistics between 2013 and 2020 found that employees who mainly worked from home were 38% less likely to have received a bonus than those who worked on site.
It’s one of many pieces of research that have been carried out over the years that highlights a proximity bias – the idea that some businesses could be subconsciously overlooking their remote workers’ efforts and not rewarding them fairly.
With women more likely to work from home than men, this bias could be a worrying trend, particularly in the tech sector where, in a developed economy such as the UK, only 20% of workers are female.
Last year Bank of England economist Catherine Mann advised women against home-based working – arguing that a two tier system was developing which saw remote workers missing out on promotions and those career-enhancing, water cooler office conversations with the boss.
And yet, one pandemic, two years and several online communication platform iterations later – does this bias still exist?
Now that we’ve seen senior executives – male and female – with their children dancing in the background, their dogs barking in the kitchen and pauses in meetings to accept ASOS deliveries on behalf of hibernating teens – has this served to level the playing field and enable a more flexible working environment for everyone?
As Covid restrictions ease and employees decide (if they have the choice) whether to head back to the office, TechInformed speaks to thirteen female business leaders to pulse check their thoughts on remote and hybrid working and whether it was helping or hindering women’s careers in IT. Their observations and advice are must-reads for anyone committed to inclusivity and hybrid working.
1. Do you believe that there’s a bias favouring those who work on site?
“Not at all. The pandemic has proven people can be productive from home, and that was the traditional fear. It just can’t be the only way of working. Couple it with social interaction for a balance and productivity will flourish.” Jamie Turner, vice president of people at IDnow.
“Proximity bias often happens subconsciously; it can be difficult to know how to tackle it. But it starts with demonstrating self-awareness by understanding why it happens and facilitating ways for every employee to collaborate and stay connected regardless of location.” Natalie Billingham, vice president, sales and managing director of EMEA, Akamai
“Historically the work from home population was a small percentage of the workforce and I’d have agreed that bias existed. But now with workers firming up their office return plans, it’s becoming clear that they want flexibility, a hybrid between home and office, forcing employers to address that bias and provide the same opportunities regardless of location.” Louise Lunn, vice president, global analytics delivery, FICO
“It depends on where and who you work for. We can all relate to the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’, that’s why we must educate organisations so that this mindset is not enacted and those who are seen in person are not unconsciously favoured.” Laura Rofe, strategic partnerships manager at payment platform PPRO
“Our R&D team has been fully remote due to Covid for the last two years. I no longer need to commute and be home at a certain time for my family, I can often work well past 5pm without impacting them. After getting used to this for the last two years there are going to be many people that will not want to go back to working in the office full time. To ensure we keep our top talent we will have to create an environment that supports both remote, hybrid, and in office employees. “Dinah Davis, vice president of R&D, Arctic Wolf
“Working from home has made me a better and more efficient worker, communicator, and independent thinker. I don’t think it’s harmed my prospects. Remote working gives people more flexibility in managing their schedule and allows young mothers to re-join the workforce quicker than they would have if they had to go into the office every day. “Ashmita Das, CEO of science jobs freelancing platform Kolabtree
“Remote working… allows young mothers to re-join the workforce quicker” Ashmita Das, Kolabtree
“There are people who like working from home and people who don’t regardless of their gender. We allow both options and you’ll always find that it depends on the workload, meetings or availability people have, but it’s always unrelated to gender.” Daniella Lorenzo Rhodes, CTO of fintech firm Toqio
“It’s less about home working and more related to individual circumstances. If your partner is also working remotely or not, for instance, or if you have kids, if you see role models that you can relate to and be inspired by within IT. I don’t see a direct relation of remote work affecting inequality within IT. Jenny Gabrielsson, CFO, Detectify
2. Do you think female employees’ promotion prospects are higher or lower if they work from home?
“Women may be more likely to want to work from home than men, especially if they have a family. Some employers (not mine) might perceive the lack of in-person time with colleagues and managers negatively, which impacts promotions and ultimately may stall careers.” Louise Lunn, FICO
“We cannot make sweeping assumptions about women in the workforce, as preferences for fully remote, flexible, or office-centric models vary on a case-by-case basis. It boils down to providing that flexibility of choice and keeping women as a part of that conversation, so their voices are heard.” Ayshea Robertson, people & culture director, Zen Internet
“It boils down to providing that flexibility of choice and keeping women as a part of that conversation, so their voices are heard.” Ayshea Robertson, Zen Internet
“Face to face always makes a huge impact and creates connection. The real question: is onsite required to create that connection? It doesn’t hurt. It’s not necessary to be onsite all the time but trying to go occasionally for special meetings, lunches, dinners will help create visibility and connection in a way that’s just not possible remotely.” Becca Powers, Fortune 500 sales executive and author of Harness Your Inner CEO
If we’re working remotely, chances of promotion should be the same in theory. But I can’t help thinking that most of the traits that women have in common, such as empathy, soft skills, negotiating, understanding, reflection, introspection, thought complexity are better shown and exercised in a presential environment – so we might be missing our chance to give a 100% of ourselves at work. Cristina Bentue, co-founder and COO at threat modelling platform IriusRisk
“Superficial attributes, particularly for women, such as how you look, how you dress, how you entertain your coworkers are far more impactful to a person’s career in-person than in a remote setting. The move to remote culture therefore focuses career development, impact and results – the objective measures of a successful professional.” Linda Dotts, chief partner strategy officer at RPA firm, Blue Prism.
3. What can employers do to ensure that remote workers are given the same opportunities as those who chose to work from the office?
“To prevent proximity bias, we must find ways to make hybrid working work for everyone. Organisations should also consider deploying a comprehensive set of training and inclusive management techniques. For instance, leaders should ensure they are connecting with everyone in their team weekly and reflecting at the end of the week on who they have spoken with in recent days to make sure no one slips through the net.” Natalie Billingham, Akamai.
“Judge people and promotions by performance not presenteeism. The conversation about remote working is too often driven by personal preference or bias, and not always based on evidence. We are continuously working to remove bias, as we recognise that people have differing working styles and are more effective in the environment of their choice.” Louise Lunn, FICO
“As chief of internal operations at a remote-first company, I’m mindful that staff have different circumstances to manage. The team has always had the opportunity to work from home, but we’ve also ensured they have access to a shared office space. Whether it’s our UK team or workers in Madrid, they can meet in person from a central hub when they choose. For us it’s about offering as much flexibility as possible to accommodate their needs.” Cristina Bentue, IriusRisk
“Our hybrid model is founded in the principles of FACS – flexibility, accountability, connected and supported. These principles are key to ensuring that associates have the same opportunities, work and meeting experience, regardless of where they do their work. Mentoring and networking programs can support engagement whilst access to senior leaders provides employees with insight and opportunity to take or navigate the next stage of their careers.” Maria Siano, VP head of international strategy at Broadridge
“Have a dedicated diverse group of people put time into your ways-of-working-strategy of which technology, physical environment, process and culture should be key pillars. The benefits of doing this properly and setting up for a future model will have a tangible impact on retention and attraction of staff and performance and I’m seeing more and more of our clients take this seriously and dedicating time to this topic,” Sarah Carver, head of digital, fintech firm Delta Capita
“A culture of virtual praise and recognition is required. This is something that every individual needs. Tools like Microsoft’s Praise app within Teams allows employees to nominate and give praise to each other for any reason they feel is worthy of recognition – completing a project, sharing insight or teaching someone how something works.” Amanda Harvey, a senior manager at collaboration, productivity and wellbeing consultancy, Silicon Reef
“Don’t forget that your employees are human. Make sure your video calls aren’t all about work – ask your team members how they’re doing, how their families are, and how work is going.” Laura Baldwin, president of online learning platform O’Reilly
4. How can women ensure that their achievements are recognised if they choose to work remotely?
“Understand the difference between a coach, a mentor and a sponsor. Women tend to seek a lot of coaching and a lot of mentoring because they feel that they need to improve the way that they come across, and it’s important to be impactful.
“But a sponsor is somebody that specifically takes an interest in you and will take you into consideration and talk about you while you’re not in the room. Word-of-mouth is the best form of endorsement so whether you are working online or on premises – get yourself a sponsor!” Silvia Mensdorff–Pouilly, SVP banking & payments Europe at FIS.
“For most women, sharing accomplishments and achievements feels like bragging – and that’s not something women do well. My suggestion is to have at least one meeting a quarter with the leader where achievements are highlighted as part of the agenda. Prior to that meeting, I encourage women to keep a brag sheet of achievements which makes sharing easier when they have the platform available.” Becca Powers, author, Harness Your Inner CEO.
“Keep a brag sheet of achievements which makes sharing easier when [women] have the platform available” Becca Powers, author
“Strict tracking of tasks while allowing transparency of the daily work to the whole department via collaborative tools like Trello or Asana is a great start for women to show their hard work. They can also adopt monthly reporting to the line manager, frequent conversations with colleagues, reinforcing team ties through video conferences or working live together in the same document. The key is to celebrate your success and keep track of your KPIs.” Cristina Bentue, IriusRisk,
“Let your boss know why you choose to work remotely; they might assume convenience equals no interest in a real career path, but if you share your desire for promotion, goals and career aspirations you are setting expectations that you have the drive, determination, and passion for your job to get to the next level.” Louise Lunn, FICO
“We can’t just log onto our computers and assume that managers and colleagues know what we’re up to. If your company has an opportunity for you to be a part of a project that involves working with teams that you wouldn’t otherwise interact with, go for it. Getting involved can help you be seen by others as well as provide you with the opportunity to contribute your expertise and build relationships across the business.” Laura Rofe, PPRO
5. Do you think that new starters and graduates have the same chances to develop their careers remotely as they would on prem?
“No. There needs to be a tangible place that unifies the company and its people. That place can be a headquarters that is just a meeting and workshop space; it can be designed specifically for collaboration and does not even have to include traditional desk spots.” Jamie Turner, IDnow
“You can’t put a price on how much you learn and absorb when being in an office or in the company of your team. It’s hard to predict just how much it will impact their careers in the long term, but it will absolutely influence career development in the short term, and it’s vital business leaders adapt their approach to management.” Clare Loveridge, VP EMEA, Arctic Wolf
“As we continue to adapt to the permanence of hybrid work cultures, we’ll see companies developing solutions to the present drawbacks of starting a career remotely that will mitigate these challenges, but I think having an in-person position earlier in one’s career will continue to provide a helpful professional grounding on which to build upon.” Linda Dotts, Blue Prism.
“It’s a longer onboarding process for some organisations. It depends on leadership and the tech.” Amanda Harvey, Silicon Reef
“You need to provide new employees with the right tools to get work done and the right support to guide them. Our engineering team uses a process they call RAMP that puts new team members in a group that supports other engineering squads. The goal is to let them ramp up to working with our systems, procedures, and culture not just with one mentor but as a member of a functioning engineering squad. It’s a great way to engage them and leverage their talents from the get-go.” Laura Baldwin, O’Reilly
“New starters and graduates will have different opportunities. If you look at what Gartner is predicting, organisations will soon move on from having just a physical and online location, to also having the metaverse location. This may present new tech starters and grads with a whole host of opportunities surrounding new product offerings and services in this emerging realm,” Megan Neale, COO and co-founder of crowd sourced customer support platform, Limitless
“I’ve never spent so much time with our graduates since being remote. The reality of being able to have a regular slot in my diary used to be negligible in between running to different meetings. Now, the request of 15 mins here, a quick teams chat while on a call is no problem, I’ve always worked in very flat organisation structures, but I think the remote world has completely torn down the barriers making management far more accessible,” Sarah Carver, Delta Capita
6. In the long term, do you think that existing gender inequalities in IT are likely to increase or decrease with the introduction of remote working?
“It should significantly increase diversity in tech. Remote working allows a larger group of people to work in roles that might have been too hard for them to manage if they had to be in the office full time. Since women are often the primary caregiver for children and the elderly it may give them more opportunities. This can also be a benefit for people with disabilities where a commute can be a large obstacle to getting a job.” Dinah Davis, Arctic Wolf
“Companies need to make sure women are getting access to the same opportunities as their male colleagues, and that the remote workforce doesn’t have a stigma attached to it.” Nabila Salem, Revolent
“I’m optimistic that gender inequality in IT will decrease with the introduction of remote working because people of all genders will have an opportunity to work flexibly so both men and women can make choices around prioritising home and work life. This is backed up by our own research in the gig model where our gig experts represent a very equal gender split, where people from all walks of life are readily taking up the opportunity to provide gig-based customer service for brands they love, at times that work for them.” Megan Neale, Limitless
“Remote working opens an array of opportunities for employers to attract more women into IT. However, it could also increase existing biases in tech if it’s approached incorrectly. Overall, it’s greatly dependent on leadership and if they are committed to welcoming a business-wide shift in company culture. Companies need to make sure women are getting access to the same opportunities as their male colleagues, and that the remote workforce doesn’t have a stigma attached to it.” Nabila Salem, president of cloud talent creators, Revolent.