Is there an unintended consequence of remote working on women’s advancement?

 July 20, 2023

How can organizations embrace equity and truly make it part of their DNA?

Equity enables everyone to achieve their full potential, a notion reinforced by Dr. Sian Beilock who features on the Mercer New Shape of Work podcast episode, Embracing Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.

A leading professional services firm in risk, strategy and people, Mercer believes in building brighter futures, and they strive for a world where economics and empathy make a difference in people’s lives. To mark International Women's Day (IWD), Mercer invited award-winning Cognitive Scientist, Author and Public Speaker, Dr. Sian Beilock to share her insight on the women’s confidence gap, the impact of representation on achieving equity, and the unintended consequence of remote working on women’s advancement.

Women tend not to apply for jobs unless they have most of the qualifications

Discussing gender equity in careers, Dr. Beilock explains: "A lot of research shows, for example, that women tend not to apply for jobs unless they have most of the qualifications where men will apply. And that women tend to think that if they got the middle mark in the class they can't go on to the next class, where as a man will tend to think he can go on. Of course these are averages, but it's really important because what it means… is that we're losing out on women who would potentially raise their hand to go on to that next role."

Understanding the gap in confidence is key, suggests Dr Beilock who also reinforces the importance of having diverse female role models that inspire young girls to see the wide variety of careers on offer. 

In -office conversations can exclude remote workers  

Sharing her thoughts on flexibility in the workplace and discussing some of the issues around remote, flexible and hybrid working, Dr. Beilock says: "One of the things that I worry about though, is especially young people and young women not recognizing the power of being in the office for those informal connections, for chats outside of the meeting room. And if we look at who has most of the division of labor at home, it’s women. And if we're then saying, 'okay you can decide when you come in the office' then it's very clear who is going to have the flexibility to decide to come in the office – it's going to be men. And the end result is that we'll have an office full of men which…doesn't send a signal that women belong and can perpetuate inequalities..."

Dr. Beilock also highlights the importance of good communication with managers. "I would really urge employees and managers to think systematically about what work looks like in a way we've never had to do before. Are there a few days a week where everyone is in the office, where you literally say to them, “you can't do Zoom meetings; this is when you do your team meetings or other things”? If you do have a remote working environment or more hybrid, how are managers making sure to connect with those people who are working more remote?" she says.

For women managing new ways of working, Dr. Beilock offers advice based on her own experience: "Embrace the fact that this is messy and hard and uncomfortable. I would argue that anyone who looks like they're doing well is probably not doing as well as you think. We're in experiment mode, and giving all of ourselves a little break. Being self-compassionate that it doesn't have to be perfect or feel great all the time is the thing that will lead us to feel better in the future."

Addressing women's confidence gap

While the workplace is evolving in many ways, there are still issues to address. One of these issues is the difficulty in closing gender equity gaps, from health to pay and pension equity. Much narrative around gender equality focuses on gender gaps - pay equity, health equity, pension equity gaps, which have been hard to close.

In Mercer's podcast, Dr. Beilock, a leadership role model herself, emphasizes the importance of role models both within and outside of organizations to embrace equity. These role models could help close what Dr. Beilock describes as a 'women's confidence gap' which doesn't reflect their ability to perform well in a job role. If organizations don't address this confidence gap, Dr. Beilock insists that they will miss out on talent. "A lot of research shows, for example, that women tend not to apply for jobs unless they have most of the qualifications where men will apply. And that women tend to think that if they got the middle mark in the class they can't go on to the next class, whereas a man will tend to think he can go on. Of course these are averages, but it's a really important because what it means…is that we're losing out on women who would potentially raise their hand to go on to that next role," explains Dr. Beilock. 

"One thing we know from psychology is if you see people who are like you in a particular field, you do feel like you belong. Seeing is believing. There's a reason why women when they have women professors in their classes, they feel like women are more likely to lead. That exposure is so important," she adds. "Seeing is believing ... exposure is important."

Equity challenges require solutions, and in the podcast Dr. Beilock suggests how organizations can implement sustainable practices that support workplace equality. 

As President of Barnard College, Columbia University, and President-Elect of Dartmouth, Dr. Beilock advises companies to create partnerships with educational institutions. Through these partnerships, companies can raise awareness about different types of jobs and subsequently attract more diverse talent.

Inspired by the adage, Ability is way more widespread than opportunity, Dr. Beilock explains: "Oftentimes at selective universities, students don't know the range of jobs out there. This is especially true for women and women who come from lower economics backgrounds. They haven't had the exposure to all the things they could do. I think we miss an opportunity to educate early about what jobs are out there. Our goal as organizations is to cast a wider net so that there's more people that know about the paths going forward."

Ensuring equity within the evolving future of work

Discussions about the evolving future of work, the idea of transitioning from traditional roles into skills-based work, has many people excited, but it brings with it a challenge that that cannot be overlooked. According to Mercer's Global Talent Trends study, women tend not to believe that the skills that they have today could be suitable for a role they might move in tomorrow. This brings concern for gender equity in the future of work.

The podcast addresses many challenges and uncertainties in the current business environment with a focus on how to transition to a more agile workforce for the future.

Listen to the full podcast episode here.

Cognitive Scientist, President, mother and researcher

Dr Sian Beilock IWD

Dr Sian Beilock is a cognitive scientist by training and is one of the world’s leading experts on the brain science behind 'choking under pressure' and the brain and body factors influencing all types of performance: from test-taking to public speaking to your golf swing. She has authored two critically acclaimed books published in more than a dozen languages - Choke (2010) and How the Body Knows Its Mind (2015)—as well as over 100 peer-reviewed publications. Dr Beilock's 2017 TED talk has been viewed over 2.5 million times. Her research is routinely covered in the media, for example, by CNN, New York Times, NPR, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been chosen as one of twenty-five Women to Watch by Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine and received early career contribution awards from the Psychonomics Society, the Society of Experimental Psychologists, the American Psychological Foundation and the Association for Psychological Science. In 2017, Dr Beilock received the National Academy of Sciences Troland Research Award for her pioneering work on anxiety and performance in high-stress situations.

Dr Beilock serves as the 19th President of Dartmouth - and is the first female president of the college. She previously served as the eighth president of Barnard College at Columbia University. At Barnard, she held had responsibility for all aspects of the College, including establishing and carrying out the College’s strategic vision; budget; fundraising; and faculty, staff and students. During the first three years of her tenure, Dr Beilock raised Barnard’s eminence in math, science and technology to parallel its renown in the arts and humanities; created options for students to transition directly from Barnard into a range of master’s programs at Columbia; and worked to bridge the gap between college and professional life through the innovative Beyond Barnard office. Dr Beilock was dedicated to ensuring that Barnard continues to attract a highly diverse student body deeply engaged with all that the College and New York City have to offer. Prior to her appointment at Barnard, Dr Beilock served at the University of Chicago as Executive Vice Provost, the Stella M. Rowley Professor of Psychology, and an Officer of the University.

Dr Beilock is a member of the National Academy of Kinesiology and the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Dr Beilock's research is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation (including a CAREER award) and private foundations. She earned her Bachelor of Science in cognitive science from the University of California, San Diego, and doctorates of philosophy in both kinesiology and psychology from Michigan State University.

Listen to the Dr Beilock Embracing Equity, Inclusion and Belonging podcast episode here.


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