Is remote working making women susceptible to unconscious bias?

Remote working during COVID-19 means many virtual meetings, where a number of women, including working mothers and women of colour are feeling less empowered during this time

While remote working during COVID-19 has felt liberating for some, for others, including for many women, it’s made them feel less empowered and more invisible at work.

Research from Catalyst, a non-profit women in leadership organisation, has found that pandemic-era working has created some inclusion barriers, affecting working mothers and women of colour in particular.

Remote working, virtual meetings, and unconscious bias

They found that 45% of women in leadership roles said it was difficult for women to “speak up” in online meetings, while one in five women have felt “ignored and overlooked” by colleagues. They also found that another one in five employees had witnessed more workplace discrimination since the pandemic began.

Catalyst has started the “Make the Invisible Visible” campaign to remedy this growing issue, which “allows individuals to select and download virtual backgrounds that ask challenging questions to spark important conversations” about gender bias during online meetings.

These “important conversations,” to tackle unconscious bias will be triggered by the following conversation starters available in a range of different languages including English, French, German and Spanish:

  • Have you ever felt judged when your child interrupted a meeting?
  • Have you ever been talked over in a meeting?
  • Have you ever been the “only” in the room?
  • Have you ever been asked, “Where are you really from?”
  • Have you ever had to check your authentic self at the door?

Lorraine Hariton, Catalyst President and CEO, said: “Make the Invisible Visible really showcases the experiences of bias women have faced in remote work during the COVID-19. Unconscious bias is persistent, so we want to engage companies and their employees—including men as gender partners—to #BiasCorrect and create more inclusive workplace cultures.”

How unconscious bias can manifest

While some employees reported increased wellbeing and productivity from remote working during COVID-19, others, especially female caregivers like working mothers, faced mounting stress as they juggled work and homeschooling. While many of these women have had online work meetings interrupted by their children during this period, it’s easy for other colleagues to grow less patient as lockdown continues.

Yet these occasions have highlighted the unpaid labour many working women perform in addition to their jobs which is why organisations must understand this to prevent further unconscious bias from occurring.

For women from minority backgrounds, online glitches including delayed audio during virtual meetings could mean that it’s easier for colleagues to accidentally speak over them. While it could be easier to read human signals in person, teams must pay even extra attention to workplace inclusion when operating remotely to ensure all women get the chance to participate as they would in an office environment.

To find out more about the campaign, click here

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