Women in the hybrid workforce

Are we really still having this conversation?

Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild wrote the landmark book The Second Shift in 1989, outlining the findings of her landmark study of two-career parents. Overwhelmingly, she found that the working mother worked “the second shift” and engaged in housework after a full day out of the home. In fact, 80% of men in dual-career couples failed to share housework equally with their wives. Hochschild found that both partners forfeited health and happiness in this arrangement, which also stressed the survival of the marriage.

I tackled this book in college during one of my many women’s studies classes, and it had a profound impact on my view of marriage. I knew with absolute certainty that my chosen future partner would be just that — an equal partner in the home, children, and marriage. I am inordinately blessed that my husband is an equal partner, and while the division of household labor has shifted over the 20 years that we have co-habitated, we remain steadfast in this approach.

This concept of the “second shift” came to mind as I read a recent article in Forbes, which identified potential pitfalls for women working in a hybrid environment. For decades, many women sought flexible work arrangements to be able to more easily advance their careers while caring for children and the home — often to no avail. As the world now shifts from entirely remote to hybrid work, some have expressed concern that gender equity will be in jeopardy if men return to the office and women continue to work from home.

Being physically in the office can give rise to closer proximity to the boss, plum projects, informal networking opportunities, and faster technology. Women stand to lose much more than men if they are largely working from home. A recent Catalyst survey found that 45% of female business leaders reported that it is difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings. One in five women says she has been overlooked or ignored by colleagues in video calls. The article goes so far as to state: “But, if men dominate in the physical office space, it could encourage the formation of old boy networks that exclude women.”

Let’s be clear: the “old boy networks” don’t need encouragement to be formed; they’ve existed in one form or another for millennia.

The author continues: “The hybrid work environment is only problematic when organizations offer their employees a choice regarding whether to physically show up in the office. If the choice is eliminated, and all employees adopt the same schedule, the inequity disappears.” This approach seems overly restrictive, incredibly complicated to implement, and will not do anything to combat the “old boy networks” that continue to thrive.

My husband has returned to the office; I have continued to work remotely to make certain that our 13 year old son, who is attending school virtually, doesn’t eat ramen noodles and pop tarts all day. Here are a few tips to maintain your position and standing in the organization without stepping foot on the premises:

Make your boss’s life easier. Make certain that s/he has what s/he needs, when s/he needs it, and looks amazing doing it.

Interrupt if you must. If you are being overlooked by colleagues during virtual meetings, interrupt. It’s certainly not the most polite method, but if your comments in the chat, “raise hand” icon, and video cues simply are not being recognized, talk over someone. You can apologize and either speak your mind then or ask for time when the current speaker has concluded.

Continue to network with colleagues. Schedule zoom coffees or phone calls when you can both walk and talk. Make a point to reach out to colleagues who you may not have seen on video in several months and reconnect.

Proactively volunteer for projects. If you have the interest and the bandwidth, reach out to the project lead and ask to be included. Most people are grateful for the extra assistance, and you can either solidify existing bonds or create new ones.

If continuing a hybrid work schedule is what works best for you, do it. The “old boy networks” will continue unabated, and we can forge ahead to create strong positions from our home-based perch.

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Analyst. Alchemist. Artist. Helping businesses optimize their performance. www.how-optimize.com

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Carrie Collins

Carrie Collins

Analyst. Alchemist. Artist. Helping businesses optimize their performance. www.how-optimize.com

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