As workplaces adjust to a new normal in the midst of the pandemic, some workers are hoping a more inclusive office environment will emerge in the process.
Catalyst, a nonprofit that advocates for professional women, surveyed both business leaders and general employees to get their thoughts on how fair the workplace is and their perceptions of the future in wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The survey found that while a majority of respondents see a brighter future for the nation’s businesses, company leaders were more optimistic than general employees.
A move toward equity
Anti-racism protests in the last few weeks have shined a light on inequality in the workplace. For example, a recent survey found that 76% of workers say racism is a problem in professional environments.
Many respondents to the Catalyst survey view the disruptions caused by the pandemic as an opportunity for companies to retool and make meaningful changes. In fact, 7 in 10 workers who were surveyed said they believe employers will enhance their efforts to increase gender equity, or fair and balanced treatment regardless of gender.
Business leaders were particularly optimistic that the pandemic will lead to a more equitable and inclusive environment for all workers. Notably, 8 in 10 business leaders surveyed said the changes being sparked by the COVID-19 outbreak provide an opportunity to make the workplace more inclusive for people of color.
However, not everyone is convinced that change is imminent, as only 41% of general employees believe their employers are fully committed to inclusion and already taking steps to build a more inclusive workplace.
A challenge or an opportunity?
Among those surveyed, business leaders were more likely to view the pandemic and the changes it has brought about as an opportunity. Three-fourths of business leaders — 75% — said the pandemic gives businesses the chance to build a more inclusive workplace for women, while only 60% of general employees felt that way.
Also, 56% of business leaders believe the move to a more remote workplace has created a more inclusive environment for women, while only 28% of general employees agree with that sentiment.
One reason that some workers may not be buying into the idea that working remotely promotes an inclusive workforce may be due to new challenges women are facing when using remote technology. Among respondents, 1 in 5 women said they had recently felt ignored and overlooked by colleagues during video calls. On top of that, 45% of women business leaders said it is difficult for women to speak up during virtual meetings. A similar percentage of male business leaders — 42% — also believe that women have a more challenging time being heard in virtual meetings. Remote working may also provide other challenges for women, as only 13% of women respondents said their male partner had taken on more household chores while everyone was working from home. Also, women were twice as likely as men to have the primary responsibility of home-schooling their children.
Still, 62% of all respondents believe a remote working environment will provide a better work-life balance, and 68% said they now have more control over their work schedules.
Methodology: Catalyst commissioned global research firm Edelman Intelligence to survey 1,100 business leaders and employees who work full time. The survey was fielded between June 1-5, 2020.