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Employers warned to mind the gender gap in hybrid work

Hybrid work has had a positive impact on the workforce, yet its sustainability will be down to employers’ awareness of the risks it brings.

According to a new report from The Female Lead and King’s College London, one of the top risks of hybrid working is the rise of invisible workers.

When under pressure to challenge stereotypes of hybrid workers, it found women tend to double down on tasks and engage in virtual presenteeism more than men do.

Behind a digital wall, the extra work they put in risks going unnoticed and unrecognised where it counts.

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Shielded from office politics, women are missing out on the networks they need to progress too, and a lack of learning opportunities further slows progression.

Speaking to HR magazine Madeleine Wyatt, lead researcher of The Hidden Risks of Hybrid Working report, said: “Women are under such pressure to demonstrate professionalism that they try and reduce the chit-chat. There's often stereotypes about women gossiping in the office and I think because of that they are under pressure to double down, demonstrate productivity and not engage in some of the idle chit-chat.

“So, I think there's a whole [different] definition of what professionalism is for women and men.”

A lack of camaraderie, increased isolation and video fatigue are also contributing to a loss of joy and purpose in women’s work.

Wyatt added: “Overall, hybrid work is a really positive thing, but the problem is that some people assume that certain things have been wiped out, like the office politics.

“We’ve got loads of quotes saying there's no opportunity for politics, but actually it's carrying on and because of that it can exclude people, particularly women, who might have been shut out already in politics, or not wanting to engage in it and it's just because you can't see it so much.”

The report concludes with a toolkit for employees which recommended different tasks to address each of the four risks.

When seeking to address the challenges Wyatt cautioned employers against making mandates between fully remote or in-office.

She added: “It's not about an either/or. We've got hybrid, it's a great thing, we have to just be aware of those issues.

“And the key thing for me is that when I talk to people about some of these problems and risks for women, there's an assumption that women should change their behaviour, but really, it needs to come down to organisations, changing their structures and processes to try and ensure those things don't happen.”

Amy Whitelock-Gibbs, director of policy, research and advocacy at Fawcett Society, said hybrid and other flexible working arrangements have been a lifeline for many women and boosted the economy.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "A 50% increase in current flexible working rates could result in a net economic gain of £55 billion and create 51,200 new jobs. However, employers must ensure that working flexibly doesn’t put women at even more disadvantage in the workplace.

“We want hybrid working to be truly embedded in workplace cultures, with flexible work options advertised upfront, offered to all employees as a day one right and at every level within organisations. Employers benefit from encouraging and supporting flexible work, and we need them to ensure this isn’t at the expense of women’s careers or workplace wellbeing."

The Hidden Risks of Hybrid Working report was based on interviews with 40 men and 40 women who are hybrid working in the UK.

Interviews were undertaken across seven employers, some with a global footprint, working across a variety of different sectors.

Any employers looking to take part in the next part of the research have been encouraged to contact the researchers involved.