How employers can reverse the inequality backslide in 2023

Young african america business woman working from home, female entrepreneur, hybrid working

Article by Jill Gates, Vice President, Culture and People, Europe, and Asia at Ensono

Hybrid work is reigniting old inequalities and organisations need to make a concerted effort to avoid falling into old habits.

So how can they ensure continued progress in diversity, equality, and inclusion?

Hybrid working provides freedom, but challenges remain

2022 was the year hybrid working became the norm. After jostling between remote and hybrid setups, many organisations fully embraced the hybrid model. Businesses saw that mutual trust between employer and employee provides flexibility – to the benefit of both parties.

Much of the surrounding commentary celebrated this shift as a victory for the worker, but hybrid work has caused old inequities to resurface. Research from Ensono found that 25% of women in the UK said their ideas were regularly dismissed in group settings, and 22% said they had experienced intimidation in the workplace. What is underlying these troubling statistics?

The shift to hybrid work has not removed the challenges previously faced by women in the workplace. The office remains an important location for face-to-face meetings and water cooler moments between staff. The risk is that hybrid work privileges men, with women more likely to take up opportunities to work remotely to support caring responsibilities at home.

The upshot is that, poorly implemented, hybrid work’s message of flexibility and liberation can conceal the same old gender-based inequalities.

Don’t let the hybrid working revolution distract from inclusivity

As we move through 2023, incentives like hybrid working and four-day work weeks cannot distract from the persistent issues facing women in business. Ensono research found that 64% of women in the UK felt that hybrid work had made it easier to be promoted or advance in their careers.

Organisations need to invest time and effort into new, more flexible approaches to supporting opportunities for advancement to nurture a diverse, thriving workforce. A concerted effort must be made to ensure that workplace cultures don’t skew entirely towards ‘Thursday drinks’ as they did in the past, thereby excluding the flexible workforce. Processes need to be implemented to avoid people being drowned out in virtual meetings and to include remote staff in team building through organised events.

There are plenty of possibilities at managers’ fingertips if they take the time to think innovatively about hybrid work. Whether it is virtual events, team activity ‘away days’ or monthly meetups, taking these steps will build a more inclusive organisation and bear dividends in the long-run. Implemented in this manner, hybrid working can be an engine for progression and growth.

We must remember; bringing hybrid work is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but the work doesn’t end there in addressing inequality.

2023 can be the year employers prioritise career development 

2022 saw an emerging struggle for women to find time and space to develop their skill sets in the flexible, post-pandemic work landscape. Despite the economic uncertainties that 2023 will bring, investing in skills and training development will safeguard the future of inclusivity and create a cohesive workplace.

By prioritising flexible working, some employers neglected learning and development opportunities. This problem is particularly acute for UK women in tech: Ensono research found just 14% had an official mentorship program at work, and 16% had employee groups for learning/professional development.

‘Flexible working’ is a red herring when the same inequalities persist. Hybrid work must adapt to better support women in 2023. Whether through new learning and development opportunities or adapted approaches to office culture, processes need to be delivered flexibly to reflect the new status quo. The stakes could not be higher. When asked if they had been told that a lack of training and development has prevented them advancing in their careers, 45% of women in the UK agreed. This should be a wake-up call for employers.


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