Experts Column

Organizations are preparing for the return to work as the world prepares for life after the pandemic. While some advocate for a complete return to five days in the office, while others advocate for complete remote flexibility, the majority of people want to work in a hybrid model. On average, corporations outline regulations requiring workers to work two to three days per week at their regular workplace, with the majority of their time spent at a location of their choosing.

We've seen how flexible work from home and hybrid work models have enabled women to pursue options they might otherwise have given up due to relocation, matrimony, or pregnancy restrictions. These hybrid models provide women with the drive and push to manage their days according to their different levels of flexibility.

On the other side, we've also noticed, and it's probably been even more apparent throughout the Covid-19 issue, that women handle the majority of family and domestic responsibilities. While there has been significant progress in terms of women's equality in the job, this is not always the case at home.

Because of the demands of homeschooling, a disproportionate percentage of women chose to be furloughed, while their male counterparts continued to work full time, although remotely.

According to the latest Deloitte report, "Women@ Work 2022: A Global Outlook," more than half of women (56%) say their stress levels are higher than a year ago, and over half feel burned out. Burnout is a major issue driving women away from their employment, with over 40% citing it as the primary reason for seeking for a new job.

The survey also reveals worrisome conclusions regarding the "new normal" of work, with over 61 percent of women working in hybrid models (a combination of remote and in-office labour) reporting that they had already felt excluded.

The study, which represents the perspectives of 5,000 women from ten nations, including 500 from India, reveals significant long-term consequences, as stress levels and harassment or microaggression experiences remain high.

Burnout, Stress, and a Lack of Advancement Opportunities

Almost half of the women polled said they had poor or extremely poor mental health. One-third of employees have taken time off work due to mental health issues, yet just 41% are comfortable discussing mental health issues at work.

Since last year's survey, the number of women actively seeking for a new job has climbed, with 9% reporting they were actively looking. Burnout was indicated by 37% of that group as the main factor for their departure. Burnout was noted by roughly a quarter of individuals who had already left their employers.

Employers face a grim future outlook: more than half of women expect to leave their current workplace within two years. Only 9% of the women polled said they would stay with their current employer for more than five years.

While the hybrid model has been hailed as a best-of-both-worlds situation, allowing people the convenience of working from home and the connectedness of working from the office, women professionals appear to be suffering the drawbacks of both, with year-on-year increases in caregiving obligations and stress levels, as well as a higher risk of experiencing micro-aggression.

“It’s time for all organisations to walk the talk when it comes to support structures and growth mechanisms for women professionals if they are to prevent loss of diversity of thought, crucial for balanced decision making,” he adds. 

Workplace Issues Continue

While many companies have shifted their workplace strategy to include flexible and hybrid work models in the last year, many women say they have yet to reap the benefits of these new ways of working.

Only 33% of women say their firms have flexible work rules, and only 23% of men say their companies have policies that allow them to work where and when they choose during the pandemic.

Furthermore, 94% of respondents believe that seeking flexible working hours will hurt their chances of promotion.

In addition to flexibility, implementing hybrid work has offered other obstacles. Sixty-one percent of women working in hybrid workplaces believe they have been excluded from important meetings, and 47 percent believe they do not have enough exposure to leaders, which is crucial for sponsorship and career advancement.

Worryingly, hybrid work does not appear to provide the predictability that women with caring duties may want, with just 35% reporting their employer has set clear expectations for how and where they should work.

Women who work in a mixed setting are substantially more likely to report suffering microaggressions than those who work either on-site or completely remote, according to this year's survey.

In India, the percentage of women who have experienced non-inclusive behaviour (harassment and microaggressions) at work in the previous year has fallen slightly from 63 percent in 2021 to 57 percent in 2022.

Being stopped and/or talked over in meetings, not being invited to typically male-dominated events, and being excluded from casual contacts or discussions were the top three microaggressions experienced by women in India. Employers were only notified of 24% of non-inclusive behaviours.

Intersectionality is Important

Women in ethnic minority groups in their nations, LGBT+ women, and those in lower management or non-managerial roles are more likely to suffer non-inclusive behaviour. Many people are less hopeful about their job prospects than they were a year ago.

Women from ethnic minority groups are more likely to get burned out than women from the country's ethnic majority. They are also substantially more likely to report feeling patronised and being excluded from informal conversations (15 percent vs. 10%). (9 percent versus 2 percent).

LGBT+ women are more than 10% more likely than non-LGBT+ women to report being patronised or undervalued by supervisors because of their gender, and 7% more likely to report being addressed in an unprofessional or disrespectful manner.

Burnout affects people at all levels of their careers. Sixty-one percent of women in middle-management roles and younger women (aged 18 to 25) report feeling burned out, indicating that women in these cohorts are more likely to experience high burnout levels. These women were also more likely to say they planned to leave their current job within the next two years.

Leaders of Gender Equality and Women Benefit

According to Deloitte's research, a group of "gender equality leaders" has emerged, organisations that have developed genuinely inclusive cultures that promote women's careers, work/life balance, and foster inclusion. The study also discovered a group of "lagging" companies with a less inclusive and low-trust culture for women.

According to the report, women who work with gender equality leaders had much greater levels of happiness and job satisfaction. 87 percent of the women who work for them (5 percent of respondents) say their employer provides enough mental health support, and the same number feel comfortable discussing their mental health at work. They also have a lot more nice things to say about hybrid working. Surprisingly, only 3% of people feel burned out.

While it is clear that working for gender equality leaders benefits women, there are also clear business benefits: loyalty, productivity, motivation, and job satisfaction are all at or above 90%, compared to 51 percent, 49 percent, 31 percent, and 31 percent for the same parameters in lagging organisations.

Building and maintaining a truly inclusive culture should be at the forefront of every corporate agenda,” says Michele Parmelee, Deloitte Global Deputy CEO and Chief People and Purpose Officer. “This means organisations need to address burnout, make mental wellbeing a priority, and approach hybrid working with inclusive and flexible policies that actually work for women. There is a unique opportunity to build upon the progress already made to ensure women of all backgrounds can thrive in an equitable and inclusive workplace.