DE&I   //   March 10, 2023

How hybrid work has been an equalizer for women leaders

Rachel Perera left her job at a Manchester, U.K.-based PR agency because it reverted to mandatory five days a week in the office, even though it meant the next job she took would have a 50% pay cut.

She’s a single mother who saw that the time commuting to and being in the office was jeopardizing the time she could spend with her daughter.

“I’m on my own and was trying to organize school pick-ups in time to see her, do homework, and everything else you have to do,” said Perera, who is now an international project manager at market research agency BEAM International. “I was trying to get to the last meeting on time at work, but by the time I was coming home, I wasn’t able to spend time with her and get everything done.”

She knew it was time to make a change and capitalize on the hybrid lifestyle being offered by so many other employers. So she took an interview with BEAM International. “The pay cut was quite a lot, but I took it,” said Perera, who started there six months ago and has since been promoted. 

Now, she works two days a week in the office, and the rest of the time can pick her daughter up from school and spend quality time with her. “When I was with the last agency, I was constantly stressed, constantly tired, didn’t have enough time to get everything done that I needed to do, which added to the stress, and added to me working late at night,” said Perera, who even became physically ill because of it. “I had no time to do anything for myself or my daughter. It reflected on my work. You don’t do your best work under those stressful circumstances where you feel like you need to always be at the next place.”

The job change has not only helped her physical and mental well-being, but she has time to put her best foot forward at her new job. For example, she has more time for deep work and proposing new ideas for the company — more fulfilling work than simply ticking off a list of daily, mundane tasks.

“I didn’t have time to spot opportunities at the other business in the same way,” said Perera. “I was just constantly rushed off my feet all the time.”

“I had no time to do anything for myself or my daughter. It reflected on my work. You don’t do your best work under those stressful circumstances where you feel like you need to always be at the next place.”
Rachel Perera, international project manager at market research agency BEAM International.

Women like Perera prove that hybrid working makes a difference for career success. According to new findings from flexible workspace provider International Workplace Group, nearly 88% of American women believe that the flexibility of hybrid working serves as an equalizer in the workplace’, and 66% believe it allows fewer biases in the workplace, whether due to gender, race or otherwise.

This month’s Workhuman Human Work Index survey of 500 men and 500 women, found that nearly half (46%) of all women report experiencing gender bias in the workplace — almost 15% more than men.

Then there is the startlingly fact that only 5% of CEOs are women. It makes sense when the workforce has continuously made it more difficult for women to reach the same goals as their male counterparts, due to challenges like insufficient maternity leave programs, lack of flexible work hours and no access to childcare.

However, the pandemic did change the tide. While employed women still earn 83% of men’s salaries, the widespread acceptance of hybrid and remote work has made it easier for women to balance both their personal and work lives. That ultimately means that they can show up and be more productive for work if they know their personal responsibilities are in order, which is much easier when you work from home at least some of the time. 

The 2023 State of Women Report, a study of 4,500 women conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of theSkimm, found that 84% of women are looking to set up a more flexible or hybrid working schedule that supports them as they juggle the simultaneous demands of managing a home and succeeding in a career.

We spoke to a number of working women who shared how hybrid and remote work has helped them balance their personal and professional lives, without letting their productivity dip. We’ve included a selection of their answers below:

“Being in physical meetings with the C-suite and broader leadership, I was constantly reminded that I was the youngest woman in a room dominated by much more experienced people and men. And just that physical walking in and feeling that presence, it was very limiting. I wouldn’t speak as much. Now, in a hybrid model, where you are all little boxes, I have taken the mentality of: ‘if I’m in this meeting, I have something to say.’ It’s made it much easier to speak up and share my ideas and thinking without having to be in my head as I would be in-person.” Heidi Hagberg, a communications exec for a tech company.

“The act of showing my commitment to the norms of the 9-to-5 (and the guilt if I wasn’t) was burning me out. Throughout the pandemic and the rise of flexible work, I’ve felt a stronger sense of belonging as a leader and as a mom than I’ve ever felt before. In this new environment, I feel empowered to block my schedule or update my Slack status as needed, to signal that I’m ‘chasing unicorns’ with my kids or taking them to basketball. Hybrid work changed how I lived my life, learned to trust myself, and ultimately find more joy in being a mother.” – Sheela Subramanian, vp at Slack and co-founder of Future Forum.

“I have worked remotely for the past 2.5 years and while initially, the disconnected feeling was scary, being remote ultimately helped me advance my career. Since I was now at home 100% of the time I suddenly found myself with free time that would have been taken up by a commute (there was a point in my career where I was spending four hours a day commuting), which enabled me to have the flexibility to pursue an upskilling course that I needed to ultimately land my dream job as a product manager at Spotify.” – Christina Gilligan, product manager at Spotify.

“Especially with being recently promoted, I’ve found that a hybrid work environment has been incredibly beneficial for me, especially as a mother of two school-aged children. Being based on the West Coast while working for an East Coast-based agency, I’ve been able to split my workday into two parts that align with my children’s schedule: ‘Before the Kids Wake Up,’ and ‘After the Kids Go to School.’ This hybrid work environment has allowed me to have a better work-life balance and be a more present parent. I don’t have to sacrifice either my career or my family life. Instead, I can be successful in both areas.” Kristine Newman, vp of product marketing for marketing agency SalientMG.

“When you’re pregnant, or nursing, or just plain recovering from excising a human from your body, doing all of that in a corporate environment is so hard. I spent so much time and brain space on my clothes and my appearance, battling against this idea that as I got bigger and bigger I would not be taken seriously. I had to start my wardrobe over with each baby. It was taxing and expensive. Being a parent and an employee at the same time is hard, really hard. Not having to go through all of it on display is nice.” NYC-based attorney and mom of four who preferred to stay anonymous.

“Hybrid work has allowed me to work primarily from home, which enables me to adjust my work environment to accommodate my visual and auditory requirements. And when I experience severe migraines, I can retreat to my dark, quiet bedroom quickly, and my team steps up in my absence. A hybrid work model has allowed me to work where I am most comfortable and most productive. It also allows me to work when I am feeling my best, which is sometimes early in the morning or later in the evening. It allows me to do my best work when I am at my best and to continue to progress in my career,” Kara Yarnot, vp at HireClix, who lost her left eye due to cancer, has Meniere’s disease and chronic migraines.

“Hybrid work has helped level the playing field, enabling dads to be more present for their families as well. Now, dads are doing school drop-offs and pickups more regularly, and it no longer feels like the spotlight is solely on women."
Lori Rosen, vp, business development at SalientMG.

“Hybrid work has helped level the playing field, enabling dads to be more present for their families as well. Now, dads are doing school drop-offs and pickups more regularly, and it no longer feels like the spotlight is solely on women. Although the guilt and concern about taking time for family commitments haven’t entirely vanished, they have lessened. Before a hybrid schedule, I never got home in time for my family to have dinner together. Now, we can have dinner together most nights, and I’m so grateful for it.” Lori Rosen, vp, business development at marketing agency SalientMG.

“Working mom who needs to juggle the demands of childcare with 8 a.m. in-office meetings? Good luck. Disabled individuals who must navigate the challenges of commuting every day to a place that may or may not be accessible to them? Good luck. Caretaker that needs to live in a rural area close to home to tend to the needs of a failing loved one? Good luck. Remote work has opened up a world of job opportunities that previously did not exist for, what I would argue, are the majority of workers. I’m finding very few working moms who are demanding that we go back to the office and spend two hours each day in traffic as a good use of time.” Amanda Richardson, CEO of technical interview platform CoderPad.

“A hybrid approach has enabled me to build my network and gain more experience by joining committees or attending events as I save time commuting and can work from anywhere. It has also created more job opportunities and increased my salary as I have been able to work for London- based companies despite being based in the Midlands [in the U.K.] I can work from home when I need to focus and my performance has improved, particularly as someone who is neurodivergent. Since working flexibly, I’ve studied two MSc degrees, renovated a house, started three businesses, had my first child, mentored others and even taught dance around my full-time global job. Employers often think it can lead to competing priorities, but [it meant] I excelled in my career. I knew more people, had more experience, richer experiences, more things to talk about. It gave me the mental space I needed.” Laura Burton, a certified positive psychology coach, who has been hybrid since pre-pandemic.

“As a mum of young children, one of the things I value most in the workplace is being trusted to juggle work and home responsibilities. In my opinion nothing beats people working together in person; but I also think we shouldn’t discriminate against parents needing some flexibility to be able to do the school run or to attend their kid’s sports day. Being able to choose my working location and flex my hours, allows me to be both more present for my family and more productive for my company.”  Emma Lacey, svp EMEA, video ad tech company Zefr.

“For myself and for many women, I think hybrid and remote work has (ironically) helped in making us have a seat at the table. Maybe it’s because we’re confined to a 2×2 box on Zoom just like everybody else, or maybe it’s because remote work has equalized ways to engage with leadership, but either way, it has lessened the need to make difficult choices between advancing my career and family or personal life.” Liz Li, chief product officer at workplace platform Velocity Global.