Women who work from home risk damaging their careers now that staff are returning to the office, a top Bank of England official has warned.
During an event for women in finance hosted by Financial News, Catherine Mann, a member of the bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, said: “Virtual platforms are way better than they were even five years ago. But the extemporaneous, spontaneity — those are hard to replicate in a virtual setting.
“There is the potential for two tracks,” she added. “There’s the people who are on the virtual track and people who are on a physical track. And I do worry that we will see those two tracks develop, and we will pretty much know who’s going to be on which track, unfortunately.”
According to The Guardian, “women aren’t returning to work to the same extent as men, and when they are working, they are more likely to be working from home”.
“Difficulty accessing childcare and disruption to schooling because of the pandemic has led to more women continuing to work remotely,” the paper added.
Mann, who was global chief economist at Citibank from 2018 to 2021, also said the economic downturn caused by Covid-19 has hit women disproportionately.
Financial News said she described the pandemic as “very much a she-cession”. However, some have suggested that the inequality Mann was referring to runs deeper than where workers choose to do their work.
Responding to the comments, lawyer Dr Ann Olivarius tweeted: “With all due respect – it’s being a woman in an already unequal workplace that damages women’s careers.”
Dr Zubaida Haque, a former interim director of the Runnymede Trust, added in a tweet: “If it is the case that women who work from home will ‘damage their careers’” then “perhaps we should change how promotion works?”
British businesses last month reported “that 60% of their staff were fully back at their normal place of work, but proportions vary widely by sector”, reported Reuters.
“In professional services, 34% of staff are in the office, 24% are fully working from home, and 35% are doing a mix,” the news agency added, citing Office for National Statistics data.
In July, experts warned that the permanent switch to more home working following the pandemic could cause rising gender inequality in the workplace.
Joeli Brearley, founder of the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, told The Observer: “Those at home will look like they’re less committed to their job, they won’t have as a good a relationship with their manager, the person that can promote them and give them a pay rise.”
Young people have also been warned that working from home could damage their careers.
In August, Rishi Sunak told LinkedIn News: “I doubt I would have had those strong relationships if I was doing my summer internship or my first bit of my career over Teams and Zoom. That’s why I think for young people in particular, being able to physically be in an office is valuable.”