Women risk 'missing career opportunities' by WFH, warns female boss

Women risk ‘missing career opportunities’ by WFH, warns one of UK’s top female bosses: Mothers are more likely to stay at home because it’s ‘easier for childcare’ – as data shows just one in 10 women plan return to office

  • More men than women in London never want to WFH, while one in ten UK women who are WFH plan to return
  • Aviva chief executive Amanda Blanc says she fears WFH women will miss out on promotions in their firms
  • Leading psychology expert Sir Cary Cooper says many WFH women find it easier for family life and childcare
  • Working from home guidance was lifted on Wednesday last week having been in place since December 13 

Women across Britain could miss out on promotions and opportunities in their companies because they are less likely to want to return to the office after the working from home (WFH) guidance was lifted, experts said today.

Surveys carried out in recent months have found more men than women in London never want to WFH once the pandemic ends, while only one in ten women across the UK who are WFH plan to return to the office. 

And today one of Britain’s top female bosses, Aviva chief executive Amanda Blanc, said she feared that if women continue to stay at home it would mean they are ‘not around when some of the conversations are being had’.

Ms Blanc, who is the Government’s Women in Finance champion and was in the top 30 of Forbes’ 100 most powerful women last year, said she wanted to ‘create the right environment for women to flourish’ in the sector.

She added that it was complex for the insurance giant’s 20,000 employees to come back into the office ‘because they’ve got to plan their lives around how they’re going to work, so the changing back and forth makes it difficult’.

Meanwhile psychology expert Sir Cary Cooper told MailOnline that he was concerned that women were less likely than men to go back into the office because being at home made family life and childcare more straightforward. 

Working from home guidance was lifted on Wednesday last week having been in place since December 13 last year as part of Boris Johnson’s Plan B measures to help fight the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. 

It comes as a tax break allowing anyone WFH to claim for extra costs is set to be closed by HM Revenue and Customs after the benefit reportedly cost the Treasury nearly £500million during the pandemic.  

The Government’s Women in Finance champion Amanda Blanc, chief executive of Aviva, said today that she feared that if women continue to stay at home it would mean they are ‘not around when some of the conversations are being had’

A woman walks through London Liverpool Street train station yesterday morning after Plan B measures were lifted in England

Almost every commuter standing on this platform at Canada Water station in East London on Monday appears to be male

HMRC is said to be reviewing the scheme, which allows anyone who has worked just one day at home in a year to claim an annual sum of up to £125. Some 4.9million successful claims have been made since March 2020.

Talking about how women are being impacted differently by being brought back into the office, Ms Blanc told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘I do think that we need to think about what happens.

Tax loophole allowing WFH staff to claim up to £125 a year for extra costs ‘will be closed after costing Treasury £500m during the pandemic’ 

A tax loophole allowing people working from home to claim for extra costs is set to be closed after it reportedly cost the Treasury nearly £500million during the pandemic.

HM Revenue and Customs is said to be reviewing the scheme which allows anyone who has worked just one day at home in a year to claim an annual sum of up to £125 in tax relief.

Before Covid, the scheme – which has existed since 2003 and is designed to help with the extra costs of home working such as internet, electricity and gas bills – cost the Treasury about £2million a year.

But at the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone had to work from home where possible, the rules were relaxed so that people no longer had to prove they worked from home regularly to claim. 

Instead, working from home for just one day during the tax year was enough to claim the whole yearly sum. The tax-free relief was also raised from £4 to £6. Over a year, this adds up to £62.40 for basic-rate payers and £124.80 for higher earners.

The update was due to end in April 2021 but was extended for a year. HMRC said 4.9 million successful claims for the tax break have been made since March 2020. The changes meant the cost rose to nearly half a billion pounds over the two years of the pandemic, The Daily Telegraph reported.

‘Because if what you see is that all the men come back into the office and the women don’t, then obviously the women are not around when some of the conversations are being had and they could miss out on opportunities and so that’s what I’m calling out, really, that I don’t want to happen.

‘We know that the progression of women in the financial services is just simply not good enough. We’re not moving women into more senior roles quickly enough – and I think it’s my role as the Government’s Women in Finance champion but also as a woman leading an organisation to make sure that we create the right environment for women to flourish and for women to be given the same opportunities as men. 

‘So we just need to make sure that in the way that we work, we don’t jeopardise women’s opportunities.’

Speaking about the return to work of Aviva employees, she added: ‘My view is that we would like people to be in the office around three days a week. There’s going to be big flexibility around that. 

‘I’m really keen that we do have some physical presence in the office, even though I think the way that we’ll work in the office will be different to pre-Covid.’

Meanwhile Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, told MailOnline this morning that women were more likely to work at home because it was ‘easier for them’ if they have children. 

He said: ‘Men are more into their careers and getting ahead and play organisational politics more than women.

‘My real worry is that men will go back into the office and women, because they have the primary care responsibility still, won’t go back into the office as much because it’s easier for them, they can do the school run, and that by not going in as often – they will go in two or three days a week in hybrid working, which is what I think will happen with a lot of people, men will go in more than women – and it will disadvantage women because if you’re there, just showing facetime, men are still in the senior roles still, this will disadvantage your career.

‘Unfortunately I think that will happen, unless men during this two-year period have understood the value of children and understood the nature of their role in the family and got some benefit from being with kids – other than home schooling because no one liked that, it’s hard, it’s really hard work and should make us appreciate teachers more – but if men did, and there will be some who did, there would have been some men who were full time in the office but didn’t take up flexible working options, even then it was women who took it and men didn’t.

‘The reason was they thought it would adversely affect their career. Now it won’t but they’re still very ambitious on balance, their identity comes from work, and they understand the significance of organisational politics. 

Peloton-riding civil servant DID get out of the house last summer to enjoy free tickets to Euro 2020 football and a night at the Brit Awards 

Sarah Healey heads into work in London yesterday morning

The senior civil servant who boasted how much she loved working from home did manage to get out of the house last summer – to enjoy some lavish hospitality.

Sarah Healey, permanent secretary at the culture department, spoke last year about how she liked being able to get on her Peloton exercise bike during the day because she did not have to spend so much time commuting.

She also told a conference how working from home had also enabled her to spend more time with her three teenage children.

Now it has emerged that during the summer, Mrs Healey benefited from free tickets to concerts and football matches. She attended the Brit Awards , along with two England football matches during the Euro championships. There was also a concert and two dinners.

Mrs Healey’s annual salary was in the £165,000-£170,000 bracket last September, a higher band than the previous year, when she was in the £160,000 to £165,000 bracket. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s pointed out her pay rise was about 1 per cent.

Ministers are continuing to pile pressure on Whitehall officials to return to the office after Boris Johnson ditched work from home guidance.

Inquiries by the Daily Mail have found Mrs Healey appears to have split her working week between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Westminster office and her £1million Victorian home in the trendy south London suburb of East Dulwich.

Her property has been undergoing expensive renovation works. In September – before the Omicron wave at a time when ministers were urging people to get back to the office – Mrs Healey told a London Tech Week conference that the pandemic had been a ‘very, very good thing’ for flexible working.

‘I have a Peloton and I can just get on my bike whenever I have a teeny bit of time,’ she said. ‘That has been a huge benefit to my well-being.’

A source said Mrs Healey had worked in Whitehall every day since working from home restrictions were eased. Today she arrived at the office at around 11.30am having travelled from home. 

‘I’m just hoping that men learn something during this period of time and develop much more of a role within the family and their kids.’

Asked whether he thought the return to the office would be better for men or women, Sir Cary added: ‘I think it will be more of a boost to men, because showing facetime, being there, has benefits no matter what you do, no matter how productive you are – that’s the irony.

‘The evidence pre-Covid was both men and women wanting more flexible working, but men on balance did not take it anywhere near the rate that women did because women thought they were the primary carers of kids, even though they knew it would damage their career.

‘I personally think what we’re going to see is a return – I think that men will go in much significantly more than women. Maybe men will take a day, maximum two days working from home – and that women will be two or three days at home. That’s what i think will happen, but we don’t know how men have been affected by these two years in terms of their role in the family and their relationships.’

It comes after a YouGov poll found last week that more men than women in London never want to WFH once the pandemic has ended – with the survey also discovering that pre-Covid around half of working men and six in ten working women in in the capital had never WFH.

Some 31 per cent of male working men said their preference after the pandemic would be ‘never working from home’, but this dropped to 21 per cent for female workers.

In addition, there has been a rise in the proportion of women who wish to WFH some of the time – from 25 per cent before to 50 per cent wanting to do so in the future. And for those WFH all the time, the figure is up from 12 per cent to 23 per cent.

For men, 41 per cent want to WFH some of the time, rising from 31 per cent – and the figure for all the time has gone up from 13 per cent to 23 per cent.

The poll, revealed in the Evening Standard last week, also found that 35 per cent of workers in London were WFH all the time, 27 per cent some of the time and 32 per cent not at all.

And a survey of women home workers for the Daily Telegraph last November by FindOutNow found that only one in 10 WFH women plan to return to the office.

The study also found that just 6 per cent thought they were missing out on opportunities because they were not in the office, compared to 9 per cent of men.

One of Britain’s leading female economists Catherine Mann, who is on the Bank of England ‘s Monetary Policy Committee, warned last November that women who continue to WFH risk hurting their careers.

The former Citigroup global chief economist said a hybrid form of working could open ‘two tracks’ and widen the gender gap – and warned that a disparity between the number of men and women returning to the workplace is emerging due to difficulties accessing childcare and disruptions to schooling related to Covid.

This means more men have been returning to offices while women continue working from home or taking a hybrid approach.

She told a Financial News virtual event for women in finance last November: ‘Virtual platforms are way better than they were even five years ago. But the extemporaneous, spontaneity – those are hard to replicate in a virtual setting,’.

Ms Mann added: ‘There is the potential for two tracks. There’s the people who are on the virtual track and people who are on a physical track. I do worry that we will see those two tracks develop, and we will pretty much know who’s going to be on which track, unfortunately.’

ANALYSIS: ‘People who need to work from home to juggle work and caring responsibilities are missing out’

By SARAH COLES, senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown

Hargreaves Lansdown senior personal finance analyst Sarah Coles

At the moment, working more flexibly can stand in the way of career progression.

The Office for National Statistics figures show that before the crisis, those who had worked exclusively from home for years were paid 7 per cent less than those who never did, and were less than half as likely to have been promoted.

People who need to work from home in order to juggle work and caring responsibilities are missing out. 

And while there’s no reason why women should face the brunt of caring responsibilities, right now the reality is that they do.

Government figures from just over a year ago showed that women were doing 99 per cent more unpaid childcare than men.

For some managers, being out of sight means being out of mind, while others are trapped in the mindset that people who need to work flexibly aren’t as serious about their careers.

Managers who measure staff by the inputs they can see, rather than by their outputs, vastly underestimate the value of their remote staff. 

The problem isn’t necessarily the flexible working itself: it also owes an enormous amount to these kinds of attitudes.

The pandemic has shown just how effectively many people can work from home.

The ONS figures found that homeworkers work for longer, put in more unpaid hours, and take less time off sick – so many of them are more committed than they would be in the office.

Businesses need to adapt to find ways to make sure that anyone working flexibility gets the same opportunities as anyone working full time in the office.

If we assume that the answer to this problem is to force everyone back into a workplace – and demand that those with caring responsibilities to make a choice – we risk squandering the enormous potential of a huge chunk of the workforce.

It also reinforces an artificial divide whereby one half of a couple is the breadwinner and the other makes career sacrifices in order to care. 

And at the moment, the people making those sacrifices tend to be women – which is why at the start of the pandemic only 5 per cent of dads worked part time and 37 per cent of mums did.

It’s only when workplaces allow more flexibility for everyone that we will see more equality in the way roles are divided, so that everyone can balance work and home life more effectively.

The real answer may lie in how we view flexible work, and retraining managers to understand the enormous potential of this vastly overlooked group of employees.

Everyone should have the opportunity to find the balance that works for them, without having to accept that they’ll pay a price for it.

Source: Read Full Article