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The pandemic made working from home commonplace. As more women enter the workforce, they encounter challenges and opportunities in working remotely.
Possible downsides of having a remote job include distractions, social isolation and higher expectations to do household chores, while benefits include more flexibility, less commute-related stress and increased safety for women.
No rest for the weary
Women and men don’t spend their time at home equally.
Despite global advances in women’s rights, women still do the majority of household chores. Even when working from home, women are often expected to care full time for their children or aging parents in addition to having a career. They’re expected to run errands and answer phone calls, performing the job of a secretary. They’re expected to be cooks, dishwashers, teachers and maids – and do it all with a smile.
Women who work full time spend an average of 4.9 hours a day on household and care work, while men spend an average of 3.8 hours. Given that they essentially have a second full-time job, it’s no wonder women report more job burnout than men. There’s a long way to go when it comes to an equitable division of labor.
With remote jobs also come fewer opportunities to socialize outside the home, and a poor Internet connection or computer trouble can create setbacks. There is also a potentially lower chance of getting a promotion when working a remote job, although this study was done before the pandemic, when working from home became normalized.
Still, a relative lack of communication with coworkers and managers while working from home presents unique challenges. Employees have to call, email or video chat with their team members when they have a problem instead of walking over to their desks to resolve things immediately.
Remote workers must be self-disciplined and motivate themselves to finish tasks without someone watching over their shoulder. This is a serious challenge for some people who work remotely, as time management doesn’t come easily to everyone.
It can also be challenging to separate work and home life, especially for mothers with young children or those who lack a home office space. Getting into the “work mode” mindset is easier when you’re in a brick-and-mortar office building, and it’s natural to wind down after work if you leave the building when you’re done.
If there are so many downsides to working from home, why do 68% of women still want a remote job?
Bridging the divide
First, consider the commute. Women not only save time and money by working from home, but they stay safer, too. Not everyone owns a car, and many women feel unsafe walking or taking public transportation to work. Even when controlling for the proportion of public transit users by gender, women are more likely to be harassed or assaulted on their way to work than men.
Women who do own a car are less likely to know how to fix common mechanical problems, creating yet another hurdle to getting to work. It isn’t due to a lack of strength – tools make it possible for almost anyone to change a tire – but rather a lifelong expectation of weakness, helplessness or outdated ideas of femininity that so often force eager girls to sit on the sidelines while their brothers learn to fix a flat.
There are also health reasons why many women benefit from remote jobs. Roughly 14% of women and girls report absenteeism from work or school due to menstruation-related issues. Pain, fatigue or lack of access to hygiene products lead to countless days taken off work, which could be remedied in part by having a remote job.
Pregnancy, too, can make it difficult or impossible for some women to physically come in to work, but women often take a pay cut or even lose their jobs due to being pregnant. In the United States, employers with fewer than 15 workers are exempt from the constraints of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, meaning pregnant women can be fired without repercussion for needing time off. A remote job allows pregnant women to rest and take breaks.
Women are more likely to move due to their husbands changing careers than the reverse situation. Military wives, for example, are much more common than military husbands, and women are often forced to change jobs when they move. A steady, remote career eliminates this issue.
In the workplace, women face higher rates of sexual harassment and violence than men, often because they’re a minority. Very few women work as truck drivers, aircraft pilots or foresters, for example, and those who do may face constant backlash or questioning of their abilities.
Additionally, women without remote jobs are sometimes legally required to wear makeup as part of a workplace dress code, incurring extra costs and time getting ready in the morning. Many employers also discriminate against Muslim women who wear Islamic dress such as a Hijab or Niqab. The law protects these regulations in many places despite violating basic human rights. Remote jobs make it possible to work without being seen.
Remote positions are usually white-collar jobs, which tend to pay better than blue-collar jobs that employees have to do in person. Having a remote job also protects against layoffs in the face of a crisis such as a pandemic or the destruction of the office building.
Then, there are the benefits everyone gets from working remotely: Saving money on gas and eating out, designing a comfortable and personalized home office, taking breaks as needed, spending more time with family and pets, working outside on a nice day, and more. It’s clear that working from home is here to stay.
Finding unique solutions
The challenges and opportunities for women working remote jobs can be hard to untangle. The benefits of remote work include being in a more comfortable setting, achieving higher productivity, and the ability to travel. There is no commute, saving time and money that employees would otherwise spend on driving.
It’s clear, however, that many women want remote careers not for the reasons mentioned above, but because traditional jobs can be hard to access, discriminatory, or physically and emotionally unsafe for them. Women also take remote jobs because the burden of caring for their children, parents or spouse often falls on them – a deeply engrained gender role that will take time to undo.
Perhaps the best solution is not to promote working from home as a better alternative to the traditional model, but to fix the systemic problems that keep women home in the first place. Then, women can decide for themselves if they want to work remotely or go into the office.