A lack of remote working opportunities has led 24% of women to quit their job, compared to just 17% of men, according to a new report by Zapier. 62% of US female knowledge workers cite remote working as being their most preferred company perk, compared to 53% of their male counterparts. Yet 40% of women don’t work remotely because their employer doesn’t allow it, compared to just 25% of men.
This is a massive issue for new and expectant mothers. Reports show that 54,000 UK women lose their jobs every year after becoming pregnant, with a further 390,000 working mothers facing negative and potentially discriminatory treatment, according to campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed.
There’s also an “unpaid work” imbalance, with women taking on the majority of childcare, cleaning, and cooking. An ONS report found women carry out 26 hours of “unpaid work” a week, whilst men do 16 hours.
Women carry out 26 hours of “unpaid work” a week, whilst men do 16 hours
These insights shed light on why the gender pay gap persists. The unequal division of labour means women are more likely to work part-time, work below their pay grades and capabilities, or give up work altogether in order to balance work and caring responsibilities, according to a BITC report. Mothers fall even further behind, with the gender pay gap widening for 12 years after their first child is born, resulting in 33% less pay per hour than men.
A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission investigated the ways in which businesses can help close the gender pay gap. The recommendation that came out on top? Providing remote and flexible working options: the very thing that so many women are being denied.
Why does remote and flexible working help close the gender pay gap?
The traditional 9 to 5 Monday to Friday in the office is a challenge at the best of times. A Microsoft UK survey found 41% of workers have difficulty making healthcare appointments around inflexible working hours, 33% don’t spend enough time with family, and 80% struggle with job pressures at home. Everyday life, it seems, is being hampered by inflexibility at work.
This hits women particularly hard, who – as we’ve seen – need to juggle work, in addition to the lion’s share of childcare and housework, around traditional working arrangements.
Remote and flexible working helps close the gender pay gap primarily by giving women more opportunities. By providing flexible working options, doors open for the women who would otherwise have had no choice but to work part-time, beneath their qualifications, or not at all. When flexible working is on the cards, this gives women the chance to work to their full potential, as they are able to structure their working day around their own schedules and responsibilities.
Flexibility allows working mothers or those with caring responsibilities to structure their working day around their schedules
Data collected by the National Women’s Law Center found that women lose $16,000 a year due to the “motherhood penalty”. Flexibility enables more mothers to stay at work and advance their careers, helping to close that gap. Linda Chau, people services director at healthcare company DaVita, says a flexible working schedule and ability to work remotely ensures that working mothers’ contributions and qualities are appreciated whilst allowing them to continue to find personal fulfilment. “They don’t have to choose one over the other,” says Chau.
Remote working also eliminates the commute, giving back potentially two hours a day. This helps accommodate the school run, which would normally be in constant conflict with the journey to and from the office, something that flexible working campaigner Anna Whitehouse experienced first hand. She requested a minor adjustment to her working arrangements so that she had time to collect her daughter from school, but her employer denied the request – so she had to quit. Whitehouse had to leave a job she loved, and the business lost a dedicated member of staff, simply for the sake of flexible working hours.
Tackling the gender pay gap becomes attainable when businesses ditch the 9 to 5 and embrace remote and flexible working. So long as the work is being done and expectations are met, it shouldn’t make a difference to businesses whether staff work from their office chair or their sofa at home. But the difference it makes to working mothers and women with caring responsibilities is huge, and would be a significant step in closing the gender pay gap. Just a 10% increase in mothers working could raise £1.5bn in increased tax revenue.
The role of technology in closing the gender pay gap
Remote working naysayers may have cited poor technology and difficulties with communication as being blockers in the past, but that simply doesn’t ring true anymore. Digital workplace tech, such as internal social media, video conferencing, and cloud storage replicate the traditional office so well that some companies are office-free and 100% remote. With the right technology and effective remote working policies in place, there’s nothing standing in the way of businesses providing the flexibility needed to help close the gender pay gap.