Sheila Flavell CBE
Deputy President, techUK & COO, FDM Group
During the lockdowns, remote working was an incredibly useful tool. With restrictions now lifted in the UK and offices getting busier, there is a risk that some businesses that offer hybrid working will fall prey to proximity bias.
Proximity bias is where people in the physical proximity to their team and company leaders will be, unconsciously, perceived as better or given preferential treatment, hampering the career progression of those who work from home.
Impact on women
It is sadly no surprise that, in a society where gender inequality is still prevalent, it is women that are at risk of suffering the consequences of proximity bias. Women, especially those with caring responsibilities, are more likely to work from home than men. Already, almost 60% of women who work in hybrid environments feel they have been excluded from important meetings. The vast majority of women fear that simply asking for a more flexible work schedule will impact their chance for a promotion.
This is a serious concern. If proximity bias is not addressed, it could exacerbate workplace gender imbalance issues. Employers in the STEM sectors need to provide protection and training to employees who work flexibly to ensure women have access to resilient careers which allow them to thrive.
Overcoming proximity bias
As Deputy President of techUK, I have made it my priority to champion the benefits of inclusive workplaces and encourage a more diverse range of individuals into tech. It’s important to see that things are changing, albeit at a slow pace.
If proximity bias is not addressed, it could exacerbate workplace gender imbalance issues.
For FDM, combating proximity bias has required a concerted effort to ensure we have the right recruitment, training, and support systems in place. This enables all employees to feel as comfortable working from home as they do from the office.
Similarly, the most effective approaches from techUK’s membership to equalise the opportunities of flexible working focus on four things: action in the community to inspire the next generation; attraction and recruitment; getting workplace culture right; and development of diversity.
Effective and sustainable solutions to support women working flexibility must cover all aspects of a company – the people, its processes and its culture.
Building equitable hybrid workplaces rooted in inclusivity will support employers to retain their female staff. Inclusive leadership can hold together today’s disrupted, virtual workforces and an inclusive culture can be a powerful driver of resilience.