As the spurt in telecommuting during the current pandemic has already proved, the potential of a WFH model in the professional landscape is unparalleled. It is, according to many experts, the future of work – a world where there are no geographical barriers and an employee can work from anywhere and everywhere as per their convenience while staying connected with their work environment at all times. While doing this, one will also be able to enjoy autonomy and flexibility regarding their work hours in a day and avoid stress of daily commute. Sounds like a eutopia, right? What could be better than this? Well, this same future also promises an unbiased, unprejudiced world for women who get paid the same amount of wages as their fellow men and are not discriminated on grounds of sex or station in life (single mother, spinster, pregnant woman, etc.) However, most of us know better than to get on this jolly ship full of blissful promises, only to be sunk by the burden of reality at a later time.
So, let us explore in depth the various advantages, disadvantages, and challenges that online jobs entail for women and also explore some potential solutions to a better, less disparate, more diverse future workspace.
The Traditional Scenario.
It is no secret that traditionally, women have been associated far more closely with household work than men. Whether it is taking care of children, doing the dishes and laundry or just housekeeping in general, women have been expected to be homemakers. The pattern, though changing to a degree in the 21st century, still remains largely skewed against women. The constant juggling between professional work and household chores have usually been a major area of concern for ambitious ladies who want to get ahead in life. At times, they have failed to maintain the balance and professional output has suffered. This has led to the development of a social stigma against moms in the workplace, who are expected to be comparatively incompetent compared to married men.
Online Jobs, with the opportunity for women to work from home, were expected to address this issue to a certain extent. However, the results are mixed. A removal of commute stress and the comfort of one’s home has been a major morale booster for women, providing them with more time and energy. However, the bringing of the professional space to one’s home has obscured the boundaries between home and work. As the interview with the mother of a 1-year-old child proves, trying to work while your little baby is crying beside you, can be rather difficult.
The Age-old Conflict.
This leads us to another issue – the conflict between work and family, an issue especially coming to our attention during the pandemic. Online jobs were initially expected to empower women to greater professional success with an expansion in their horizons. However, a trend to the contrary has been observed. With both husband and wife telecommuting during the pandemic, and deep-entrenched gender roles active in society, husbands are using the opportunity to expand their work further and devote extra hours to it, whereas women are taking the subordinate
position of their own accord and making sacrifices in the professional sphere in favour of domestic tasks.
Repercussions of the Similarity Principle.
Another major problem with telecommuting has to do with the limited social exposure and networking opportunities that it provides to its employees. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the amount of interaction possible over a zoom call is far more limited than a full-fledged business meeting or seminar. Women are at a particular disadvantage in this scenario. In a workspace that has traditionally been male-dominated and where informal relationships are forged by the “similarity principle” (like attracts like), men are more likely to bond with other men over the internet and the boss is more inclined to look to male subordinates. This could potentially drive women out of informal discussions where a majority of brainstorming and innovation is often carried out, thus forcing them to feel left out.
Home may NOT be where the hear is.
When trying to figure out the pros and cons of online jobs for women, one also has to take into consideration the implications of the alternative, that is, travelling to work. Home, we assume for just about everybody, is where their heart is. However, it might not necessarily be a happy place for everyone, especially for women who are victims of domestic abuse and harassment. Certain family members may be ill-mannered, others may be controlling and some may just be lousy people who make it really difficult for their spouses to pursue their goals. This is especially true of Indian middle-class families. The workplace is therefore, often an opportunity for women to escape the toxicity at home and an online job may not be conducive to their purpose.
A thick silver-lining.
At this point, a reader of this article may consider online jobs for women a rather grim prospect, having come across all the major issues just mentioned. However, in thinking so, he’d be largely mistaken. There are, without a doubt, a great deal of advantages to telecommuting.
First and foremost, the prospect of online jobs addresses the issue of remote working for women. Traditionally, females have been forced to stay with their children while males travel to distant locations in search of work. However, with online jobs, your work can come to you instead of it being the other way around, thus limits imposed on geographical relocation due to family ties are no longer an issue for women. This has led to a major boost in the participation of women in the national workforce, especially from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in India which has, in turn, set off a
chain reaction addressing gender disparity in the household. Let’s see how…
A Healthier Household.
Middle-class families usually find it difficult to hire a great deal of paid household help due to economic restrictions. Moreover, due to the ongoing pandemic and rules for social distancing, the hiring of nannies, baby-sitters and maid servants is also not permissible. Therefore, with both the members in the household having jobs, husbands are starting to find out how difficult it often gets for women to handle their household chores while working for their employers. This has led to a rise in the participation of male members of a family in domestic duties. While the no. is still
largely skewed, and men often tend to overestimate their contribution, it is the start of positive change which will hopefully turn more remarkable in the future as more women take up online jobs.
Standardization & Transparency.
Another major benefit of telecommuting has to do with the standardisation of what has largely been referred to as “trivial” labour, especially carried out by women. This includes activities such as sewing, embroidery, bamboo craft, carpet weaving and others which have largely been considered a part of the overlooked cottage industry. The system of online jobs has been a huge boost to their economy in allowing these
female-driven, uniquely structured systems to get in touch with large scale employers over the internet, framing contracts in a transparent manner. Women have been able to get their talents recognised as a result and are ceasing, in rural areas, to be an economic liability.
Firm Leadership & Proactivity
Key to better future. With both, problems as well as potential solutions to the WFH experience aplenty, it
is therefore, the duty of proactive leaders to tackle the issue of gender disparity head-on and transform the culture of the workplace and multiply the advantages. It starts first and foremost with managers who should be trained to understand the WFH experience better and to recognise its unique capabilities and challenges, including those faced by women so that, when the time for performance review comes, instead of ignoring and stigmatizing against women as incompetent, they can empathise with their problems and contribute to a solution, thereby helping them improve. Managers are supposed to lead by example, and by displaying an inclusive attitude in the online workspace, they can help promote intergender cooperation. Companies should also stay on guard against favouritism and try to assess a person’s abilities solely on the basis of their performance. This means single moms would get just as much of an opportunity to prove their worth as married men. Otherwise, a similar chain reaction to that in office jobs will be set off and though the participation of men and women in online jobs would be equal, men would be found to get quicker promotions and monopolise higher posts while women languish in several inferior positions.
A Team Effort.
There is no doubt as to the fact that online jobs have provided opportunities to women to prove their worth like never before. However, it also time now for authorities, boards and executives to step up and help them out. It also the duty of husbands at home to chip in and assist them in juggling their personal and professional lives better. Only then can women manage to tap into this democratic and inclusive potential of online work to its maximum extent and erase the gender discrimination that has been omnipresent in the traditional workspace ever since its inception.