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Centaur Stage - Ep. 11: Can you shatter glass ceilings while working from home?

Centaur Stage is a weekly video series where we explore bold ideas about the future of work and learning. Each Thursday afternoon, on LinkedIn Live, at 2:30 PM UAE-time, Marilyn Zakhour, CEO & Founder of Cosmic Centaurs is joined by some incredible guests to share insights, opinions, and perspectives about the future of how we work and learn.

This episode was a special one because it was a crossover between the Who Run The World Podcast and Centaur Stage on the occasion of International Women’s Day. Our guest, Rhea Chedid, a storyteller and podcast producer and host, has been co-hosting the Who Run The World Podcast with Marilyn for the past 2 years. In this episode, Marilyn and Rhea discuss whether distributed work helps or hinders gender equality in the workplace and how the pandemic has impacted that. Watch the full episode here.

About Rhea Chedid

Rhea Chedid is currently the podcast manager at Deezer, where she produces original shows in Arabic and Turkish. Rhea and her team have released the first true crime podcast in Arabic, as well as the first sleep stories podcast in the region. Part of her job is also to support and empower podcast producers and creators to grow their audience.

In addition to her work at Deezer, Rhea is an independent podcaster. She has released two podcasts: Her Stage, a show about femme revolutionaries in Beirut, which was a part of the Google Podcast creator program, and Who Run the World, which she produces and co-hosts with Marilyn as previously mentioned.


Women and flexible work policies pre-pandemic

Marilyn and Rhea first discuss how, before the pandemic, flexible and remote work policies were actually considered good for women in the workplace. With flexible work policies in place, women could organize their day around their work and family load, and lessen the guilt of being away from their children.

Research preceding the pandemic showed that if women were working in companies that promoted remote work as part of their policies, they are three times more likely to attain leadership positions.

Providing women (and men) the opportunity to make choices about their private lives is important. At certain stages in their life women and men should be allowed to create more balance between their work and their personal lives. When remote work is done by choice—and not forced, such as during a pandemic—it can promote gender inclusivity. For example, in co-located teams women get interrupted more often, they are less seen and are sometimes accused of being less proactive about developing their internal networks, but more importantly women are left out of the boys club. Remote work actually disables those kinds of mechanisms. “Women get interrupted less often in a zoom call than they would in a real meeting, there’s less mansplaining and there's a different way to form networks if the whole company is working remotely or to some degree promoting remote work across the board. And as long as it's applied equally across the board, then women are favored because the usual mechanisms of exclusion that take place in a physical co-located team, are less at play.”

Remote Work and Performance Evaluation

Working remotely, especially as an individual contributor, can be very difficult for women because there's less face time where people can observe you working or where you can network. When companies switch to managing people remotely, they also have to switch the ways in which they evaluate them, following a more performance-based approach, which interestingly favors women.

On that topic, Rhea asks Marilyn if, through her work at Cosmic Centaurs, companies have started to evaluate the productivity of their employees and measure their growth within the company.

Marilyn responds, “most of the data shows an increase in productivity. In the US the data says that people work three hours longer per day on average, and in Europe, it's two hours. People are actually working more. And we do see companies coming in and asking us specifically to help them review their way of managing that productivity issue, which hopefully for the women who are still in the workforce might be a good thing in the end.”

Rhea references a study from Yale, about divisions happening within companies since switching to remote work between the managers (or, the VIP club) the people who make decisions who are in closed Zoom calls, and the team members or the individual performers who are then being evaluated on their output. “For example, typically at the office, if someone is talking about a big project and you're within earshot, you can technically walk over and jump in on it. Whereas if those conversations are happening on Zoom, then a lot of people and especially women are less likely to volunteer and put themselves forward.”

Impact of the pandemic & unemployment rates

While remote and flexible work options have historically favored women in the workplace what's happened during the pandemic is a complete inversion of that.

The pandemic has seen ~20% of working women exit the workforce. That's 1 in 5 women exiting the workforce either because they had to care for a family member or chores, or because they were fired.

In fact, based on research by McKinsey , women's jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men's jobs for different reasons, which we'll explore together. While women make up 39% of global employment, they account for 54% of job loss. And so women are losing their jobs faster during the pandemic. McKinsey estimates that if we do nothing about this reversal, GDP growth could be a trillion dollars lower in 2030, but if we do take action, we could see a growth by up to 13 trillion to global GDP in 2030. Of course the burden of unpaid care is one of those reasons, but we'll try and explore what are some of the other reasons that we need to be aware of:

Work/family conflict

Even though both mothers and fathers are at home, in most cases women are still taking the burden of housework in addition to child care and remote learning. Also, not having that mental separation between work and home and the feeling of inclusion at the workplace, adds to the stress and anxiety women are already feeling.

Women are disproportionately represented in industries

Women happen to work in sectors that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. This chart from a McKinsey article explains why women are disproportionately impacted by the loss of jobs.

The industries in which women are represented at a slightly higher percentage are also the ones that are the big losers of the pandemic. Reskilling workers from those industries is an absolute imperative.

How to help women struggling with remote work

Marilyn and Rhea also discussed some recommendations to support women working remotely.

1. Schedule daily check-ins

Daily check-ins create space for everyone to share how they are doing, update team members about their work progress, and be informed on important decisions or on the strategic evolution of the organization and where it’s headed. This allows every team member to bring their full selves to work and improves the team’s psychological safety.

2. Say hi to kids on Zoom

Sometimes when you’re on call with a colleague who is a parent, their kids might pop up on the screen and he/she might feel embarrassed. Always makes sure to interact with them and make them part of the conversation. Doing that reduces the shame a parent might feel in that situation.

3. Partners should also ask management for support

In order for partners to support women in their professional development, they should be encouraged to talk to their management and ask for more time to care for their children during the day. Not only will it help alleviate the burden on their partner, but companies will start to see these questions are universal.

4. Provide childcare support to working families

Whether it's by giving partners more time so that they can contribute, educating them on how to do that, or simply providing childcare support to working families, companies need to provide more childcare benefits. Similar to the pre-pandemic initiatives such as including a kindergarten or care for kids on location at the office, these policies need to come back quickly in order to fill in for the gap that schools have left.

5. Access to technology

Make sure women have access to internet devices and technology but also teaching them how to use them.

Marilyn closes this discussion by referring to Phanish Puranam’s episode on Centaur Stage where he says that it’s not about asking yourself: 'Do I think I'm being good to women or not? Do I interrupt them in a meeting or not? 'It is about the data and when you look at how many men got promoted versus women this year, the number is scary:

Only 9% of women were promoted this year versus 34% of men.

One last question

As with all guests, Marilyn asked Rhea to complete the sentence: The future of work is….

“Inclusive. I think the future of work needs to take into account the different needs of the different team members and to be inclusive of that. I would say managers and leaders and CEOs, while they're mapping out the future, try to be inclusive and don't map a work from home policy that's only designed for one kind of employee. Try to have it be designed for as many of your employees as possible and be inclusive and personalized.”

Other Centaur Stage Episodes:

Episode 9: Watch Marilyn's discussion with Helen Al Uzaizi about teaching entrepreneurship to kids or read the key insights here.

Episode 10: Watch Marilyn's discussion about the future of learning with 10-year-old Adam el Rafey, or read the key insights here.


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