Viewpoint: How ERGs Can Support Women Working in Hybrid Environments

Global HR

​Women are more likely than men to prefer hybrid or remote schedules.

Specifically, 1 in 3 women prefer to work fully remotely, and 1 in 2 women desire a hybrid schedule, according to a 2021 report by management consulting company Gartner. As a result, women are less likely to be in the office beyond the days they are scheduled to be onsite.

Women who work remotely could face barriers that impede their career advancement, such as:

However, women’s employee resource groups (ERGs) are uniquely positioned to reveal the barriers that female employees face and advocate for workplace improvements.

These ERGs champion women’s issues, such as the need for flexible work schedules, access to training programs focused on women and leadership, and the ability to foster mentoring relationships.

For example, Medtronic Women’s Network advocated for Focus Fridays, days characterized by uninterrupted time to think and plan. Whirlpool Women’s Network partnered with leaders of the appliance maker to open a corporate-sponsored child care facility.

Women’s ERGs also provide a point of connection for female employees, which is proving critical in remote and hybrid environments. More recently, some women’s ERGs have served as a resource to teach men about the workplace challenges women face. Additionally, many women’s ERGs benefit from having strong ties to executives, which leads to higher visibility for women and can increase the promotion and retention of women.

The Challenges of Hybrid Schedules

Companies that identify specific days on which employees are encouraged or required to be in the office, such as fixed in-office days or collaboration days, benefit from enabling women to prepare to be in the office. For example, dependent-care arrangements can be made in advance, and women can schedule face-to-face meetings with peers and leaders.

However, a roundtable discussion hosted by the Rutgers Center for Women in Business revealed some of the challenges women with hybrid or remote schedules experience in the early days of returning to offices. Specific examples include:

  • Difficulty speaking up during virtual calls.
  • Assumptions made about women’s commitment to the organization if they are working remotely more than men.
  • Blurred lines between work and home where women are pressured to be always accessible (e.g., answering the phone and e-mails outside of typical business hours).
  • Less visibility for women of color in remote environments.

Another barrier mentioned was company culture. While most businesses have created governance to support returning to the workplace in both hybrid and remote environments, company culture becomes critical.

For example, some companies have identified specific days employees are expected to be in the office. However, if managers go to the office on days when employees are scheduled to work from home, some employees will follow their manager’s lead and go into the office even though they are scheduled to work remotely. Moreover, employees who choose to work remotely are more often perceived as less committed to the organization than those in the office.

Some companies continue to align productivity with face time. Even if there is governance outlining when employees are expected to be in the office, women may lose out when they work remotely as a result of proximity bias.

How Can Women’s ERGs Support Remote and Hybrid Workers?

Women’s ERGs have pivoted to ensure women continue to have opportunities to develop in remote and hybrid environments. These groups are focusing much of their programming and engagement on virtual initiatives.

Virtual Workshops. Women’s ERG leaders identified sponsoring virtual training sessions as one of the most common ways they’ve supported female employees since the pandemic started. Most training hosted by ERGs has become virtual to increase accessibility. Training workshops focused on imposter syndrome, allyship, advancing female leaders and inclusive leadership were most common.

Asynchronous Messaging. Women’s ERGs leaders shared they are opening lines of communication, including hosting virtual ERG meetings once per month and creating Slack channels to help members communicate outside of the formal meetings.

Virtual Mentoring Programs. Most women’s ERG leaders gave examples of implementing virtual mentoring programs, where the goal is to facilitate career-related discussions. Virtual mentoring has grown in popularity since the pandemic because online options allow more flexibility in mentor/mentee schedules and locations.

Virtual Leadership Development Experiences. A pharmaceutical company uses leadership roles in the ERGs as a development experience. The company tracks internal mobility, including promotion rates of ERG leaders. Research found that using ERGs as a leadership development experience works best when the group’s mission is aligned with the organization’s strategic initiatives. 

Key Learnings

To provide ongoing support to women working in hybrid and remote settings, women’s ERGs can serve as a voice for the employee and work with management to: 

  • Provide virtual professional development workshops.
  • Designate specific days during which all employees will be in the office (collaboration days).
  • Create a culture that rewards performance outcomes and doesn’t penalize workers for taking advantage of remote-work policies.
  • Provide at least two weeks’ notice if employees are expected to be in the office during unscheduled days.
  • Invite men to join women’s ERGs to educate them about the barriers female workers face and encourage men to take advantage of hybrid and remote work.
  • Leverage women’s ERGs as a talent development pipeline, where women can gain leadership development experience and compensate ERG leaders for their work.
  • Participate in virtual meetings with other women’s ERG leaders across organizations to share ideas about how to support and advance women employees.

Lisa Kaplowitz is the executive director of the Rutgers Center for Women in Business and an assistant professor of professional practice, finance and economics for Rutgers Business School.

Kyra Leigh Sutton, Ph.D., is the research director for the Center for Women in Business and an assistant teaching professor of Human Resources Management for Rutgers – School of Management and Labor Relations.

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