It’s complicated and it’s changing, states JULIET TURNBULL, CEO and Founder of the UK’s leading female-focused careers site, 2to3days
For decades, pre-pandemic work was, for the vast majority of us, ‘in the office’. It wasn’t working for any of us all the time, but it especially wasn’t working for women. The indigestible cocktail of the inflexible hours, the long commute, the micro-aggressions, the lack of career growth, cost of childcare and the increasing demands from ageing parents meant that burnout was rife and, as we have witnessed, quiet quitting was sadly on the up.
Thanks to the rapid deployment of technology and the rise of the diversity, equity and inclusion agenda, changes to more flexible working arrangements pre-pandemic were happening. But it was incremental, and it felt a bit like watching paint dry. Then in March 2020, Covid struck the world and overnight we swapped an archaic default for an ‘avant-garde’ all in, kids and all, home working.
For a brief spell there was much reported euphoria and news coverage that the office was a thing of the past and working from your garden shed or under the stairs was going to be the new norm.
I never bought that argument and still don’t.
We need the office. We all do – women as well. However, what has changed is the role the office plays in our working lives. For the office to work for women, the following needs to be addressed.
Prejudice against women
The office environment mustn’t operate as a petri dish of micro-aggressions that fester and ferment over time. Sometimes, the office environment gets to a point when a woman says, ”enough is enough. I can’t be bothered to put up with this nonsense anymore – there is more to life, and I quit.”
This behaviour needs to be called out and dealt with. It needs instead to be inclusive. If it isn’t, the women will leave.
Genuine flexible working
Primarily mothers not just want, but need, to be able to integrate their work schedules around the inflexible school hours and childcare practices. If they can’t, the women will leave.
It’s the pointless commute for the sake of being in the office that has, over time, for millions of people zapped their energy and enthusiasm. For women juggling a demanding home life, it is not an effective use of their precious time. So, again, the women will leave.
A lot of women work, or want to work, so that they can get away from the never-ending humdrum of daily domesticity. Let’s face it, for years men have perfected the art of dodging this one. The office, therefore, offers an amazing opportunity to break away from the monotony of domestic chores and swap it for interesting social interaction, intellectual stimulation and creativity that working from your home office can’t. It just isn’t necessary to go there every day.
That’s why hybrid working is here to stay as it supports work life integration, and it empowers everyone to be able to live happy, healthy and productive lives.
After all, an office environment that works for a woman will work for everyone.