It has become increasingly clear that there will not likely be a definitive “end” to the pandemic — and workplaces are trying to figure out what that means for them moving forward. As tech companies in particular consider whether they want to bring workers back into the office full time, all for full time remote work, or follow a “hybrid” model, there’s another question they should be considering.
Could a “post-pandemic” tech industry finally center women?
The sins of the industry when it comes to women in tech are well-documented — and we don’t need to rehash them here. Instead, let’s take a look at some ways tech workplaces could reorient in order to better meet the needs of women in the workforce.
Working some days in the office and others remotely — or “hybrid work” — is often touted as being better for women. That’s likely because women still shoulder a greater burden when it comes to caretaking in the home. From cleaning to cooking to managing the kids’ schedules, women are more likely to work the second shift than are their male partners, regardless of who is making more money at work.
Hybrid work and remote work, therefore, are viewed as more flexible; more accommodating to the many commitments a working mother likely has. But a recent piece in Politico points out that pre-pandemic hybrid work actually ended up “ghettoizing” moms, as their choice to be at home and not in-office 24/7 was often perceived as not working as hard or not being as much of a team player.
If more companies are going to offer remote or hybrid work moving forward — which seems to be the case — then clear policy and cultural changes will need to be implemented to ensure that this type of “mommy tracking” doesn’t continue. For example, some companies are requiring hybrid work, which means no one is singled out for choosing to be home some of the time.
Politico describes Etsy’s new “Prime Time” policy, which suggests that teams holds meetings between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. That makes it easier for parents to work around kids’ schedules. Those meetings can also be held in-office or remotely or in a hybrid manner, creating a working situation that is both structured and flexible. It’s an innovative way to reimagine the work day while keeping working parents in mind.
This one seems like a no-brainer: Offer in-office daycare. For the past 10 to 20 years, the design of tech offices and office cultures has been about keeping workers in-office as much as possible. That’s how we got cafeterias, gyms — even nap rooms — in workplaces throughout the tech cities.
But those amenities were built primarily for young men in their 20s. (And, later, young women too. But they’re pretty firmly for an age group who isn’t parenting yet.) For people in their 30s and 40s, in-office daycare is the office amenity equivalent of that on-tap beer they loved in their 20s. It just makes work that much better.
Formerly known as “maternity leave,” parental leave gives new parents a chance to adjust to life with a new life in it. Making parental leave available to any new parents, regardless of gender, not only takes some of the burden of infant-care off of the birthing parent, but also reduces the “mommy tax” that so many women face when they take time out of their careers to care for their children. Gender-blind parental leave results in better rested, less stressed, and more productive workers — of all genders.
Being career-focused means that many women delay having children until their final fertile years. That results in an increased likelihood of needing some extra help getting pregnant if they decide to do so.
But while we’ve started to see an uptick in recent years, many companies still don’t include fertility treatment in their health insurance. That needs to change. Fertility treatment should be a standard part of any insurance package in the tech industry, just like birth control is.
This might be the most “radical” suggestion on this list, if only because no one seems to be doing it yet. But if companies are willing to subsidize gym membership, provide on-site wellness centers, supply free food and drink, or $10K for office equipment, (all of which are perks that are currently offered by big tech companies) why not subsidize for house cleaning and/or child care?
We know from hundreds of studies stretching back to the 1980s that feeling stretched between childcare, housework, and work-work leaves women feeling overwhelmed and makes it impossible to “succeed” in any of them. So a workplace that offered a house cleaning and/or child care subsidy would take a major weight off the shoulders of their female employees. It’s the kind of perk that would set a company above and beyond in the crowded hiring market that is the tech world.
Tech has a (deserved) reputation for being unfriendly to women. But as our workplaces shift and change, there’s an incredible opportunity for companies who care about equity to change that. It’s time to make moves like these: Moves that center the experiences of women in ways we haven’t seen before.