The future is female... and remote: How virtual workplaces are rewriting the narrative
27 July 2021 at 7:00 am
COVID-19 gave Lex La Sala the confidence to move into a remote role despite the stigma around working-from-home. Now, she says, we’re in an environment where virtual workplaces are not only the norm but provide grounds for women to thrive.
In early 2020, when Australia saw its worst economic recession since the Great Depression, it was unsurprising that the crisis hit women, young people, and marginalised groups the hardest.
Despite women making up 50.4 per cent of the Australian population, April 2020 saw 8 per cent of women lose their jobs, compared to 4 per cent of their male counterparts. A global report revealed that women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to the crisis than men’s and, similarly, Oxfam International reported that the COVID-19 pandemic cost women around the world over $800 billion in lost income and 64 million jobs in 2020.
You don’t have to look too far to understand why.
Women disproportionately make up part-time and casual workers. Globally, we are more likely to work in low-wage and insecure roles and in the industries that have been most affected by lockdowns and closures.
On top of this, women have, for a long time, been universally deemed the “informal” caregiver and the crisis has only exacerbated these pressures. The “she-cession” has been coupled with an emotional burn-out for women bearing the brunt of unpaid caregiving responsibilities around the world.
The barriers have always been there. Gendered social norms have always hindered our professional opportunities. COVID-19 just reilluminated them on a global stage.
So, when I took a 100 per cent work-from-home role as a director for Fifty Acres in 2020, people around me watched on with bated breath. In this economy?
Prior to being forced to work remotely in the early days of the pandemic, the work-from-home lifestyle came with a particular stigma: flexible working arrangements were never truly flexible, the idea of a strictly remote agency was an unusual thing, and corporate culture still equated dedication with a physical office.
Then something unexpected happened.
When Australia’s economy started to open, so too did the opportunities for women. Recent ABS data has revealed a much-needed silver lining amid the economic crisis: female employment has risen by almost 200,000 during the past year, overtaking male employment by two-to-one, and reaching an “all-time high” of 61.7 per cent in New South Wales.
Why are we seeing a jobs boom for women? More importantly, will we see this ripple through other parts of Australia as flexible working continues?
At the peak of the crisis, we were all forced to adapt. Virtual Scrum and Kanban boards became the obvious solution, Slack evolved into a key channel for social connectedness and our daily commute looked vastly different. What once seemed unusual became very much usual.
Our dynamic and ever-changing digital landscape has forced us to rethink remote working. Now, we are watching a new generation of talent push for work-from-anywhere arrangements and, more than that, flexible working is here to stay.
Long gone are the days of workplaces flaunting “work-from-home days” in your first interview and then sweeping them swiftly under the rug once you’re employed. It’s no longer lazy to work from your kitchen or couch – it’s normal, and it’s proven to be a sustainable way of working for many.
This means two key things: as the stigma disintegrates, people are more likely to apply for remote jobs and employers are more likely to offer genuinely remote working conditions. This opens the door to all kinds of opportunities – conventional working environments will no longer pose barriers for people living with disability and women juggling unpaid caregiving duties.
It means that women and marginalised groups won’t continue to be overlooked in the hiring process. It means that traditional gender patterns won’t continue to impact a woman’s participation in the labour market. It means that we can take an important step towards closing in on the gender gap.
This year marks 11 years of Fifty Acres opting for a truly virtual workplace. One that favours broad geographic reach and low environmental impacts and, most importantly, one that empowers women with the opportunity to thrive in a professional world and eradicates their usual setbacks.
As I type from my kitchen table and consider when I’ll squeeze in my daily stroll around my local walking track, I look forward to a society that embraces these working arrangements and provides the grounds for women to thrive – professionally, socially, and emotionally – and without hesitation.
Fifty Acres presents free fortnightly webinars for not for profits. To register visit fiftyacres.com.au/academy/
If you need help with government engagement, assistance with a strategic communications strategy or PR outreach, get in touch with Fifty Acres on 02 6281 7350 or visit fiftyacres.com.au/