October 21, 2020

Men at the office and women at home or the risk that teleworking deepens inequality

What was almost a demand to reconcile has become a threat. Teleworking suddenly burst with the state of alarm and caught most companies without a plan or little time to think about it. Six months later, the Government and social agents have just agreed on a law to regulate it, but the panorama has changed: without a clear date for the control of the pandemic, with thousands of people returning to their physical jobs while others continue to do so in home, and an even more unbalanced distribution of care tasks, telework threatens to widen a gap, that of gender.

The Active Population Survey already showed more women than men teleworking in the second quarter of the year and several experts and also unions warn that they are the ones who are taking hours at home to facilitate care management in these times, while they continue Go ahead with your conventional job.

The economist Libertad González, co-author of one of the investigations on the gender gap in care and the labor market during the pandemic, points out that the EPA points to a difference of up to eight points between women and men: during the second quarter up to 21 % of the workers did it from home compared to 14% of the employees. That period includes both strict confinement and the phases until the ‘new normal’, but not the period after, for which there is no data yet.

González believes that this gap points to two places. On the one hand, women have more ‘teleworkable’ jobs as a whole, closely linked to administration. Although commerce or part of the hospitality industry are feminized, construction and part of the industry are masculinized, all of which require a presence. On the other hand, it shows that labor flexibility “tends to fall on women.” A study by the National Institute of Statistics highlights that teleworking is more frequent the older the person is and in couples with children. In 2019, of course, the number of employed persons was still slightly higher -by only two tenths- than of those employed teleworking, a trend that ended up breaking this year.

“You have to have more data but from what we know, although at first everyone who could do it did, later, especially in that first phase without schools, women stayed more teleworking at home and men tended to return to the workplace, “says the UGT vice-secretary, Cristina Antoñanzas, who recognizes that the law agreed with Labor leaves much room for collective bargaining on how to avoid the gender gap and its unwanted effects. “From previous experiences, in companies that had already regulated it, we know that you have to be careful. If you are the boss and you have a man who works in the center and a woman who works at home and you think about a promotion, you tend to think more about the man, you are seeing. This adds to what already exists, which was a still large gap in positions of responsibility, “he adds. So monitoring the impact on promotions is one of the alerts that surround telecommuting.

The problem, says Antoñanzas, is also that teleworking is understood as a conciliation measure, “when it is not.” “Teleworking is not working with children or dependents that you have to take care of next to all day”. It is something that CCOO, organizations such as MalasMadres and many experts have also highlighted these months. Although before the pandemic it was one of the goals to make employment more flexible and able to adapt more easily to the demands of care, the lockdowns have highlighted how little prepared society and the business world were to put it into progress and how insufficient it is as an isolated measure to improve the employment-work-life balance tandem.

The professor of Sociology at the University of Navarra Irene Lapuerta insists that teleworking in a pandemic has not been a typical teleworking. “It is not clear what the impacts are, although in general before the pandemic we knew that some flexibility measures do favor the involvement of men. However, that is not what we have had these months because teleworking is not working taking care of children at the same time, this is a much more adverse context in which the broken dishes are being paid by women, “he says. Laporta mentions studies that suggest that women tend to telework at more untimely hours than men and to do so in a space that is not their own, with more interruptions from children and adults.

Lapuerta believes that in no case can telework be considered in isolation and that it should be regulated “within a broader package of labor flexibility measures.” He mentions, for example, the split days as a hindrance for conciliation and the need to bet on incentives to the continuous working day. Up to 45% of mothers and fathers, she points out, have a split shift and only 15% claim to have some control over their schedules.

That teleworking is negotiated as part of the Equality Plan, or one of the central measures of companies to bet on conciliation, is problematic, continues the UGT deputy secretary, precisely because of that deceptive association that working from home allows taking care of or that caring at home allows teleworking as if nothing else.

And he concludes: “The adaptations of the working day, the reductions, the flexible hours … that cannot be replaced by teleworking and it gives us the feeling that all these measures are fading. Even the right to digital disconnection, because as you are at home it seems that you can work whenever you want, but in practice this is not the case. ”


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