Feb 22, 2022 - Economy

Women, people of color happier working from home

Illustration of a woman facing an office door and a front door to a house

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As companies reopen offices, who goes back and who stays home could determine the trajectory of workers' careers.

The big picture: Women and people of color are generally happier working from home and are likelier than their white male colleagues to want to continue teleworking, according to a new Harris Poll survey of professional workers across the U.S.

Why it matters: A hybrid workplace has the potential to become an inequitable workplace, as in-office workers have more contact with managers and executives — while those who stay home fall out of sight and out of mind.

  • "[Hybrid work] seems like a nice potential for flexibility, but what we’ve seen is that there is often an emphasis on face time, even if you’re not necessarily more productive," says Gayle Kaufman, a professor of sociology at Davidson College.

By the numbers:

  • 52% of women say they enjoy working remotely and would like to do so in the long term, compared with 41% of men. Just 15% of women say working in person allows for more camaraderie among colleagues, compared with 25% of men.⁸
  • 52% of Black workers and 50% of women say working from home is better than working in the office when it comes to advancing in their careers, compared with 42% of men.
  • 63% of Black workers and 58% of women say they feel more ambitious when working from home versus the office. Just 46% of men feel the same way.
  • And when asked about their anxieties over returning to offices, 47% of women of color say they worry about having to dress for work, compared with 31% of men.

"It's output over office politics," says John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll. "It's the theater of the office that is often alienating women workers, workers of color, women of color."

  • "I think what you're seeing from this data is that COVID, perhaps accidentally, has very much liberated workers, particularly women and BIPOC workers."

What to watch: Omicron cases are falling rapidly, and more and more companies — like Microsoft, Expedia and American Express — are setting return-to-work dates.

Most return plans are hybrid, with the option to stay home a few days a week or more. "But whenever something is optional, there is always the potential that there's a 'right' response," Davidson's Kaufman says.

  • Executives are nearly three times as likely to want to work in person as employees, and sociologists fear that hybrid workplaces will be two-tiered, with leadership and white male employees interacting at the office, while teleworking women and people of color are left behind.
  • Firms will have to be explicit about what's expected of workers and take care to integrate remote employees into meetings and social events, they say.

The bottom line: "Companies could undo significant gains in diversity, equity and inclusion, and culture building with return-to-work mandates," Gerzema says.

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