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Hybrid work is just not working well for most women

April 26, 2022, 12:01 PM UTC

Survey after survey shows women are much more likely than men to prefer flexible and hybrid work schedules. 

But for those who are even offered this option, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be—at least not yet. 

“The pandemic was the great leveler in the workplace,” Emma Codd, Deloitte’s global inclusion leader, tells Fortune. “Many of us in the corporate world were forced into our homes,” and office workers logged onto video calls and did their jobs from the comfort of their couches.

Unfortunately, that equal footing didn’t last for women, especially those who are now trying to navigate hybrid work environments where some coworkers are in the office getting face time with the boss and others are at home waiting for a meeting invite that may not show up. 

About 44% of women surveyed by Deloitte reported they now work some type of hybrid schedule, spending at least part of their time out of the office, according to the company’s Women @ Work 2022 report published Tuesday. 

Despite the increase, many women still are concerned with the fallout of asking for flexible working arrangements. The vast majority—94%—fear that simply asking for a more flexible work schedule will impact their chance for a promotion. Moreover, about nine out of 10 women don’t believe their day-to-day workloads will be adjusted if they ask for options such as a non-traditional work schedule or reduced hours. 

There’s also still a lack of readily available information and general confusion around these policies. About 64% of those working in a hybrid environment say their employer hasn’t set clear expectations around how or where they’re to work. That can cause challenges, particularly for working parents and others who may need a more predictable schedule.

“If employers are really serious about equality, then one would expect them to have appropriate policies,” Codd says.

Women are feeling left out when working hybrid roles

More worrisome than confusing policies, however, is that many women say they’re fighting to stay relevant when they opt for hybrid work. Nearly 60% of women in a hybrid work arrangement say they’ve been excluded from necessary meetings and discussions, as well as informal interactions. About half feel they don’t have enough exposure to team and company leaders. 

“What these women are clearly telling us is that when they are working in a remote way, and there are others in the room, they do not feel included,” Codd says. Additionally, research has shown that access to senior leaders, sponsors, and mentors does have an impact on career trajectory, so the lack of access could mean women risk being left behind.

Women hybrid workers are also more likely to have to contend with microaggressions such as being interrupted or talked over in meetings and being patronized by coworkers, according to Deloitte’s research. But less than a quarter of these incidents are reported, typically because these women didn’t think their complaint would be taken seriously or they felt it didn’t warrant an official complaint. 

Women are burned out, and they’re walking out

These uneven and unpredictable working conditions are taking their toll. While women overall feel increasingly more stressed and burned out, those in hybrid work environments who experience exclusion, microagressions, and other workplace challenges have higher rates of mental health issues. And while stress is playing a role, over-working is also a big issue.

“You’ve got this ‘always on’ culture that many of us associated with the pandemic. That just hasn’t gone away,” Codd says. Just over a third of women Deloitte surveyed rated their ability to switch off from work-related tasks as poor or extremely poor.

Burnout is not only a problem for women; it’s a problem for employers. The top reason women cited for wanting to leave their current job was burnout. 

There’s a theme, Codd says, that runs through many of the fears and concerns women report, which is: How will I be judged? How will my career be impacted? 

“That speaks to [company] culture and leadership,” Codd adds, and employers need to take the time to address this now. Not only do employers need to communicate clear policies and expectations around flexible work arrangements, they need to make sure the company culture is inclusive from top to bottom. 

“This is fixable. We’re in very early stages of hybrid working,” Codd says. “We’re now arguably always going to be in a position where some of us will be in a room, some won’t be in that room. And how do we make sure we always make those who aren’t in the room feel included?”

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