Remember those simpler times when the world divided moms into two categories?
By Melissa Stefanec MelissaStefanec@yahoo.com
Not too long ago, there were stay-at-home moms and working moms.
Now, in a post-pandemic world, there’s a new mom in the mix — the working-at-home mom.
She’s flexing hours and flexing her biceps at the ability to “have it all.”
Jokes aside, the ability to work from home or use flex time has been a personal and professional boon for many women. We can fit in work around life and work life around work.
This allows us to be more present and less harried parents. Our stress levels have gone down. But, as with most advancements, there is a dark side: the unintentional but inherent sexism embedded in flexible working arrangements.
• The S word — Sexist is a heavy-hitting description for an advancement that can help parents better structure their lives. But, before you label me as a sensationalist banshee, hear me out. When we start accounting for gender imbalances, expectations and perception, flexible work can help the very women it ought to help.
If employers, managers and employees don’t take a moment to consider how flexible work policies can very quickly turn sexist, these policies will do just that, no matter how well-intended they are.
• The gender imbalance of work — When it comes to administrating life, moms and dads are hardly experiencing egalitarianism. According to 2022 data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, there are large discrepancies regarding the ratios of unpaid and paid work performed by men and women in America. When averaged out, women dedicate about 4.5 hours to unpaid work each day, and men dedicate about 2.8 hours. When it comes to paid work, women spend 4.1 hours and men spend 5.5 hours per day.
That data is affirming, but I don’t need it to justify a reality that I see daily — women disproportionately perform the tasks that keep the family ship afloat.
They are more likely to block out their calendars for daycare and school drop offs and pickups. They are more likely to cover the budget, meal planning, the food shopping, the clothes and activity shopping, the parent conferences, the field trips, the medical appointments, the school volunteer work, the after-school activities, the paperwork and the homework.
Perhaps, in the greatest imbalance of all, women do most of the remembering, tracking and scheduling. If families were businesses, most women would hold every position in the C-suite and still be performing the bulk of the work on the ground.
• Weren’t you talking about hybrid work and how sexist it could be? — I promise the above wasn’t a digression. Women disproportionately perform administrative duties for their families and that fact leads us to a very logical conclusion. Women are much more likely to take advantage of hybrid and flexible work models.
Women are more likely to be the ones with inconvenient times blocked out on their calendars. They are more likely to call into that important meeting from the urgent care parking lot. If working in the office is optional, women are less likely to be onsite. Similarly, men will be more likely to go into the office. When it comes to virtual meetings, men are more likely to be seated at the same desk and at a consistent location. Meanwhile, women are more likely to be camera off while they wait in the school pickup line.
With these and similar differences, bias is already rearing its ugly head. We see men maintaining their professional images and taking advantage of flex work far less than women. All of this consistency and presence could be seen as a superior level of dedication, one worthy of associated promotions, special projects and wage increases.
And these biases will be rampant in men and women. That’s how subconscious bias works; you don’t even know you’re being unfair, because your brain took a bunch of shortcuts to arrive at a seemingly logical conclusion.
• Slamming the brakes on bias — So how do we stop ourselves from being biased against working women who take advantage of flexible work arrangements? First, we have to acknowledge it’s a thing that is happening. Second, we have to actively work to mitigate that bias.
If you currently work at an organization that embraces a flexible work model, please ask yourself the following questions, no matter how progressive you think you are. Think about that woman on your team that is home with a sick kid for what feels like the tenth time this month. Think about the woman who took a zoom call with seatbelts and carseats in the background. Think about the woman with daycare transportation on her calendar every day.
How are you judging her as a professional, even if her work is just as stellar as he male counterparts?
Now, think about the man who is always there, even though he has a family. How are you judging him?
When you think about their individual performance. Are you judging their work products or the illusion of their dedication?
If we aren’t careful, the very systems that should help women will be just another way to keep them down. Unless we check our biases and judgments, remote work will leave women asking: if I use this benefit, will it benefit everyone in my family but me?