Remote work and the possibility of a new gender gap

2022 / 9 / 14 | Author: enw_editor

In 2021, I wrote an article considering whether remote work will undermine gender equality post-COVID (in Japanese). A year later, there are now several articles about remote work as it relates to gender and diversity, which I would like to explore.

Remote work opportunities not granted to those who want them?

In June 2022, Fortune published an article about how a gender gap has developed around remote work opportunities. (“The gender gap has come for remote work”)

The article discusses the results of a 2021 McKinsey survey conducted in North America, Europe and Australia that highlights a disparity in the proportion of who is offered the chance to work remotely — 61% of men, 52% of women, and 32% of transgender and nonbinary workers are receiving such opportunities.

However, when given the choice, men elect to work remotely 2.9 days per week while women opt for a slightly higher average of 3.1 days. As Fortune points out, women have a greater desire to work remotely than men but are not being given the same opportunity to do so.

In addition to the above survey results, McKinsey’s website also lists the following:

  • Employees with disabilities were 11% more likely to prefer hybrid work1 than employees without disabilities.
  • More than 70% of men and women expressed strong preferences for hybrid work. Nonbinary employees have an even stronger inclination for it.
  • LGBQ+2 employees were 13% more likely to prefer hybrid work than heterosexual employees.

According to McKinsey, those in traditionally underrepresented groups tend to prefer hybrid work more.

1. “Hybrid work” refers to working models that have an option for remote work or are entirely remote.
2. Transgender respondents are included in the section on gender identity.

41% of C-suite executives believe that it is harder for remote workers to get promoted

BBC questions whether it is the responsibility of employees to level inequalities in the promotion of remote workers in its article from July 2022, “Is it up to employees to fix the remote work promotion gap?

The article discusses a 2022 survey conducted by a U.S. company, in which 41% of C-suite executives believe that “remote employees are less likely to be considered for promotion.”

The article raises concerns that, due to the fact that women and minority workers tend to prefer remote work, it is possible that a new gap will emerge between two classes of people: those who go to the office often and get promoted and those who mainly work remotely and cannot get promoted.

One authority on this topic suggests that it is incumbent on remote workers to perform in a way that gets their employers to notice them. However, the article asserts that we should not make this the responsibility of remote workers, and that it is vital for companies to foster an equitable environment that closes the promotion gap.

 “I’m working now”— The undue pressure of digital presenteeism to appear active

The previous BBC article mentions how value is placed on “being at work” and “being seen.” At the same time, remote workers already experience stress from showing they are “at work” even when they are remote.

According to a study by Qatalag and Gitlab, remote workers waste 67 minutes every day on top of their designated working hours in order to demonstrate that they are “online and working,” as shared in a July 2022 article by Fortune.

The study revealed that over half of participants (54%) feel pressure to show that they are online and engage in tasks such as responding to email and Slack messages, commenting on Google documents and updating project management tools.

The study refers to this phenomenon of doing menial tasks to show one’s online status as “digital presenteeism.” “Presenteeism,” which is used in health and productivity management contexts, refers to the act of going to work while dealing with physical or mental illness at the cost of productivity. Both terms share the fact that value is placed on “being present.”

As it turns out, as many as 81% of respondents indicated that they are more productive when not required to be online at a certain time.

The side effects of remote work cannot be linked to a lack of personal effort

These articles involve studies conducted outside of Japan, but why not consider them in conjunction with the situation in Japan? They may not apply entirely, but it is important to pay attention to the possible development of a new gender gap and decreased productivity.

The status quo of modern business that values being at work is currently undergoing a massive shift. As the BBC article established, we should not pin the side effects of change on an individual’s lack of effort, but rather, we should expect that efforts be made to adjust the structure of the workplace itself.


Keiko Kondo (Author), translation by Melody Poland

Photo by Pol Solé via Adobe Stock