The rise in flexible, remote and hybrid working has provided women with many benefits over the past couple of years. But a new report by educational charity The Female Lead, along with Dr Madeleine Wyatt, Reader in Diversity Inclusion and Leverhulme Research Fellow at King’s Business School has highlighted a number of potential challenges and ‘hidden risks’ facing women too.

The multi-sector research study, carried out in 2022, was conducted to dig deeper into the lived experience of hybrid work, with the following aims:

  • Learn more about how men and women experience hybrid work
  • Identify best practice to design a toolkit to assist organisations in developing inclusive hybrid working practices
  • Share knowledge on what men and women might need to consider when managing their careers in a hybrid workplace

The researchers interviewed 80 hybrid workers (40 men and 40 women) across seven organisations. The participants came from public, private and voluntary sectors, and held varying levels of seniority and experience.

All 80 interviews were examined for underlying themes and gender differences to identify key rewards and risks of hybrid working for women. Researchers also looked for examples of best practice from organisations and individuals in the ways they managed their hybrid careers.

The findings revealed the ways that hybrid working benefits both men and women, and their organisations – but also highlighted four key risks that are likely to impact the workplace and career experiences of women in the world of hybrid work.

The Rewards

  • Hybrid workers feel trusted and respected as they have greater control over their schedules and work arrangements.
  • Hybrid workers are able to adjust their working style and environment to improve personal productivity.
  • Enhanced flexibility allows hybrid workers to focus on their health and wellbeing.
  • Hybrid workers report reduced costs for travel and childcare, and less time spent on their commute.
  • The flexibility of hybrid working is a gamechanger for those with caring responsibilities.

The Risks

  • Invisible Workers: Women double down on tasks and engage in (virtual) presenteeism to counter stereotypes of hybrid workers. But working behind a digital wall risks women’s work going unnoticed and unrecognised.
  • Shielded from Office Politics: Women are shielded from political interactions. This risks women feeling left out of the loop and lacking the networks they need to leverage career support.
  • Missing Meaningfulness: Women miss camaraderie with colleagues. Combined with increased isolation and video fatigue, many found their roles joyless and struggled to find meaning from their work.
  • The Hybrid Career Ceiling: The risks of hybrid working, combined with a lack of learning opportunities and less flexibility in senior roles, places women in danger of slower career progression.

Thankfully, the report also offers some solutions. The findings make it clear that while hybrid working has many benefits, organisations need to consider how to make it more inclusive. The Female Lead and Dr Madeleine Wyatt drew from the interviews and wider work on gender inclusivity to create a toolkit to allow companies to enhance inclusivity in hybrid work. Full guidance on best practice and recommendations can be found in that toolkit here.

But some key advice includes:

Risk 1: Invisible Workers

Reframe and communicate what ‘productivity’ is
Managers to champion employees upwards and sideways
Showcase employees without relying on managers
Support employees to separate work from home

Risk 2: Shielded from Office Politics

Reframe ‘politics’ to encourage inclusive interaction
Create transparent communities
Incentivise (not mandate) the office

Risk 3: Missing Meaningfulness

Invest in purposeful team bonding
Encourage camaraderie via transparent online social groups
Create a vibrant office environment

Risk 4: The Hybrid Career Ceiling

Onboarding employees in-person
Provide regular shadowing opportunities
Design flexibility into all roles
Provide sponsorship

Women in Games CEO Marie-Claire Isaaman said: “We welcome this ground-breaking and insightful research by The Female Lead and Dr Madeleine Wyatt. Remote, hybrid and flexible working became a necessity during the pandemic, and the games industry acted swiftly and innovatively to keep its employees safe, whilst maintaining studio productivity. The change in working practices has benefited women, particularly mothers, allowing them to continue to progress their careers and return to work after having children.

“However, this report highlights that there are also risks to women when it comes to hybrid working. We urge games studios and other companies to download The Female Lead’s toolkit to incorporate best practices in the workplace that support women and other employees.”

The Female Lead is an educational charity founded by data science entrepreneur Edwina Dunn OBE in 2015. The charity is dedicated to both improving the visibility of positive female role models and identifying the factors that continue to limit women’s progress, choices and fulfilment.

Find out more here.

Photo by Windows on Unsplash