November 22, 2022
4 minutes

Hybrid work: what impact on gender equality?

After fifty years of progress in professional equality, what impact will telework have on women? Will the hybrid model consolidate their dominant role in performing household tasks? Will women's invisibility in the workplace be reinforced?

Hybrid work: what impact on gender equality?

After fifty years of progress in professional equality, what changes are brought about by the generalisation of telework? According to post-confinement studies, the hybrid model tends to consolidate women's dominant role in performing household tasks. And despite the risk of female invisibility in the workplace, flexibility should make life easier for working women.

After the first lock-in, women were more likely than men to be willing to telework, despite the heavy burden of household chores during this unprecedented period. Nearly one in two women (44%) were prepared to work from home compared to only 36% of men. And if three quarters of employees think that teleworking will continue to develop, this feeling is even more marked among women. Are they more likely to want flexibility in their work organisation? This was confirmed by the SNCF, where, when they returned to the office, female employees were more often teleworking on Wednesdays, the children's day. " This raises real questions, and we need to be aware of this trend," warns Anne-Sophie Nomblot, President of the SNCF Mixité network. According to the OECD, the explosion in teleworking has increased "women's unpaid work", i.e. domestic tasks.

Confinement has increased inequalities in the performance of household tasks

In this respect, the first confinement was a period during which gender inequalities worsened. Women were less likely to have a room of their own in which to be alone, according to INED. And more women were combining teleworking and childcare during this period, according to a study by the CGT's general union of engineers, managers and technicians.

As these various publications show, the organisation of a work space at home is unequal. This is also what the sociologist Frédérique Letourneux emphasises, for whom there is a confusion between professional and domestic roles in the home. She refers to the double burden suffered by teleworkers who "not only find themselves assigned to domestic and parental tasks, but are unable to defend a positive professional identity".

Beyond confinement, there is an inescapable link between motherhood and professional decline for women: the pay gap - which averages 19% between men and women in the private sector - widens with the number of children. From 18% for those without children, to 33% for mothers with two children, this gap rises to almost 50% for women with three or more children. (While pay inequalities increase with each birth, it is important to remember that they exist from the first job, not from the first child).

Presenteeism, a male managerial culture

In the history of women's emancipation, taking over the workplace has enabled them to no longer be assigned to the domestic sphere. Should we therefore fear greater invisibility of women in the workplace as a result of the generalisation of distance work?

"Presenteeism was not better for women," explains Sophie Fenot, general delegate of Forces Femmes. For the past year, she has been running the association which helps unemployed women over 45 to return to paid employment or entrepreneurship. "Meetings early in the morning or late at night were a handicap for women; presenteeism is a male managerial culture. It's good that this is changing, we need to introduce flexibility and trust. "

This is what the health crisis has allowed: to break the myth of presenteeism in companies. Gone (or almost gone) is the obsolete vision of the model employee, that of "the good professional who works hard and stays on after 8 p.m., even though he or she may have prepared for their holidays between 3 and 5 p.m.! Telework has helped to show that it is not the number of hours spent at work that counts", says Anne-Sophie Nomblot. And to avoid any injustice, at the SNCF, the criteria for awarding promotions are clearly established, "we say what we expect from a manager, there are four main values. The more objective the rules are, the more it benefits women. Without rules, we are heading towards co-optation because the natural tendency is to promote people who look like us.

This is one of the cornerstones of professional (in)equality. Management positions are mainly held by men, who are more likely to choose to recruit, raise or develop their peers.

"Women are not only poorly adapted to the culture of presenteeism but also to the political side of business. They are less focused on making themselves known," adds Sophie Fenot. They therefore tend to carry out the tasks requested without necessarily pointing this out to their superiors. For her, the generalisation of telework is comparable to the introduction of the 4/5ths system: of course there is a risk of invisibilisation for women, but it is a commendable (r)evolution towards a more flexible model and (in particular) thanks to which they work more efficiently according to a German study. However, the reluctance of some employers not only hinders the generalisation of teleworking but sometimes also the evolution of women teleworking within the company; the latter are refused bonuses or promotions, as explained in a recent article published in Le Monde.

From the gender divide to the generational divide

The spread of remote working must also be put into perspective with the relationship to working time. Having a good work-life balance has become the number one priority for a majority of office workers (66%) according to a study conducted last May. And not just for young mothers who want to prioritise childcare. "Today, younger men are also interested in having a balance between professional and personal life, it is no longer just the wish of women. Younger workers place much more importance on working conditions than their elders and covet a more flexible model. " I think we have moved from a gender divide to a generational divide," continues Sophie Fenot.

So what can we expect for the future in terms of professional equality and working time? In the age of the start-up nation - and of hybrid work - management and corporate culture are changing in a big way. Alan Health Insurance is a good example; in this organisation, there is no room for politics or power games, and 'radical transparency' is practised: salaries are made public, there are no meetings, exchanges are made in writing via channels accessible to all employees, work is asynchronous, and holidays are taken according to each person's desires. Relationships do not - a priori - count in career development, everything is result-oriented. The ideal framework for professional equality? " The culture of start-ups will probably smooth things out a bit [in terms of professional equality] : a flatter, more informal, more flexible culture, more focused on results, less on politics," says Sophie Fenot, who immediately qualifies. " We must also bear in mind the other managerial shortcomings" of certain start-ups "pressure, long hours" but also the humiliations, failings and abuses recently denounced via the Instagram account Balancetastartup. It should also be noted that the overwhelming majority of these structures are founded and run by men.

Edmée Citroën

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