Does gender play a role in mitigating or intensifying the privilege of working from home?

University of Toronto researcher Kim de Laat recently examined the role gender plays in a person’s ability to work remotely during the Coronavirus pandemic.

“The ability to work remotely is, at the best of times, a privilege not afforded to many,” the report states, adding that “we must attend to how gender inequality can be mitigated or intensified for those who are fortunate to work from home.

Among the report’s key remote work in the age of COVID findings:

  • Only 7.5 percent of Canadian workers usually worked at the same address as their home prior to COVID-19, with significant variation by occupation and industry.
  • Eighty-six percent of companies in Canada offer at least one type of flexible work arrangement. Among these firms, over 50 percent provide the option to work remotely part-time (i.e., work from home for 1-3 days per week), or work remotely on an ad hoc basis.
  • Benefits of remote work to employers include a perceived increase in productivity, higher rates of retention, strengthened organizational commitment, and improvements to employee performance.
  • Remote work benefits employees by reducing the stress that comes with navigating and scheduling family obligations such as school pick-up and drop-off, and doctors’ appointments. The benefits of having control over when and where one works extends to workers’ families too; a recent study of low-income mothers found that when they gained flexibility in their work schedules, their children slept longer.
  • The option to work remotely means that women can take on higher paying work in city centres while also avoiding lengthy commutes.
  • The definition of an ideal worker as someone who can work long hours and avoid distractions outside of paid work is masculinized; historically, it is men who were able to eschew household responsibilities in favour of logging long hours in paid work.
  • When women work remotely, employers view them through the lens of motherhood, which can prompt status inequalities. This is because in general, working mothers are perceived as less competent and less committed to their work by employers and managers.
  • Men, and especially fathers, are increasingly more involved at home. Because they are held up as the prototypical ideal worker, men’s deviation from this unrealistic ideal can have more consequences than women’s. Men’s requests for flexible accommodations are often met with derision and career penalties such as harassment and mistreatment, reduced pay, demotions, and poor job evaluations.
  • Canadian women and young workers have been hardest hit by the economic downturn prompted by the pandemic. Statistics Canada reports that women between 25 and 54 have lost more than twice the number of jobs as men in the same age group.

Gender bias can cut both ways when it comes to remote work. It may not be possible to resolve these issues in your own remote work relationships but is important to recognize when they could be in play.

There’s a great deal more insight in the paper, which you can read online and download from Gender & The Economy.

Keep Reading: