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Can women benefit more from the WFH boom?

Woman working from home

The work-from-home revolution of 2020 is breaking down barriers that have historically prevented women from building successful and meaningful careers.

One reason: job opportunities in the digital economy are no longer strictly tied down to geography or to a rigid work schedule.

In India, most employers had long been skeptical of the benefits of remote working even before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Yet, as the health crisis rages on and pushes companies to put employee health and safety first, the country has begun introducing permanent home-based work arrangements.

The shift is statistically significant: one in three workers in India’s technology sector, for example, is female. The WFH boom has allowed segments of the population – primarily, women with families – who are locked out of opportunities for career progression to once again re-enter the labor force and advance.

Women face intense pressure to put their professional lives on hold because of family care duties.

However, as outsourcing companies, such as Tata Consultancy Services and WNS, shift traditional office-based roles to remote working, women from anywhere in the country and at any point in their career journey stand to benefit.

“Even a year ago, an operations leader working remotely would’ve been unimaginable,” Teena Likhari, an Indian woman who recently rejoined the workforce, told Bloomberg. “The change will allow so many career women like me to do what we do from home. It’s a game changer.”

As COO of Asia’s largest outsourcing company, N.G. Subramaniam of Tata Consultancy believes flexibility in the WFH era will prevent women from dropping out of the workforce soon after they start building their families. Because of remote work, “more women will stay in the workforce, more will reach senior leadership levels,” he said.

But there’s still more work to be done

In the Philippines, whose own service sector accounted for 60% of the country’s economic growth in 2019, seven in 10 teleworkers on average say they have been able to maintain, if not improve, their overall productivity in the WFH revolution, according to one study.

Remote-working women (21%), in particular, believe WFH boosts their productivity. The downside, however, is that more than three in four women working remotely (77%) also report an increase in the hours they spend on domestic duties. The lack of support for child or elderly care remains a hurdle.

Singapore, which saw a 61.1% female labor force participation rate in 2019, encourages employers to come up with more innovative ways to give working mothers and other women with care duties a chance to pursue their careers. Previous research suggests women tend to favor working for organizations that offer flexible work more than their male counterparts.

But women’s motivation to work from home isn’t based solely on the need to juggle work and family life.

Women also value the convenience and practicality; increased autonomy and creative freedom; and sense of accomplishment they feel in a flexible/remote work environment.

Investing in Women, which calls for the “inclusive economic growth” of women in Southeast Asia, recommends three main strategies for employers in the region and beyond:

  • Consider permanently adopting flexible work arrangements
  • Review plans to manage and develop remote talent
  • Introduce employee assistance programs in light of the crisis
  • Ensure equal gender representation in COVID-19 response teams

The advocacy group reminds organizations: “The domestic situations of employees may not be obvious, and their contributions may be hidden or perceived differently.” As such, companies need to be aware of the struggles women face in this new era of work. 

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