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A recent survey showed that nearly two-thirds of working women worry they will have to choose between their career and their families if work-from-home accommodations end.Morsa Images

In this latest stage of the pandemic, there is new tension between the goals of executives and managers and the desires of the people they employ.

Employers want their workers onsite so that they can keep tabs, ensure maximum productivity and make use of the office space they are paying to rent. But, as has become increasingly clear in sociological data, employees – particularly women – do not want to return to full-time work in person.

In fact, working women are worried that they will have to choose between their careers and their families.

A recent survey from registered charity The Prosperity Project suggests that women want more flexibility and workplace accommodations.

In the survey, 46 per cent of working women reported that the pandemic increased their responsibilities at home. 91 per cent of women surveyed said they would prefer workplace flexibility moving forward, with the possibility to work remotely at least some of the time.

Nearly two-thirds of women surveyed – 60 per cent – said they feel they will have to choose between their career and their family, with 45 per cent saying they are more likely to quit their jobs if working from home part of the time is not an option.

In the current labour deficit, employers must make concessions to working women if they want to retain this vital labour force. If they do not, says Pamela Jeffery, founder and board director of The Prosperity Project, women will look elsewhere for employment.

“If employers choose to deny women and men workplace flexibility, we believe that they will find it much more challenging to recruit and retain top talent,” Ms. Jeffery says.

The need for part-time work from home is particularly present among mothers with children under twelve, 61 per cent of whom said they would be concerned to return to the office full-time. Caring for parents was also a factor.

Michelle Melles, a Toronto-based television producer, experienced the difference firsthand.

“My father has advanced Parkinson’s and during COVID it was much easier to care for him when I was able to work from home part-time,” she says. “But care work is undervalued by employers.”

Heeding the lessons learned through the pandemic

Yana Rodgers, director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, says that unpaid and paid care work needs to be more valued by both businesses and governments in the U.S. and Canada.

“That means spending more to help families navigate their care responsibilities at home,” she says, including programs like national subsidized daycare systems, longer guaranteed parental leave and paid care for elderly people. (Canada’s $10-a-day child-care plan will be implemented in every province and territory by 2026.)

“We also need to do more to support our paid care providers, such as nurses, personal care workers [and] daycare workers,” Dr. Rodgers says.

In-person care workers, whose jobs are inherently more dangerous in the era of COVID, need fair wages and safe, consistent working conditions. These care professions are not only feminized but are also made up disproportionately by racialized women and women without formal citizenship in their country of residence.

Flexibility and understanding should also be afforded to people for whom remote work is not an option, but who also deserve to have their domestic burden of labour lightened, says Dr. Rodgers. That could include boosting their pay and making sure they have fair working schedules.

The results of The Prosperity Project’s survey indicate a desire among women for workplaces that are willing to adjust the way they function to better serve their employees. Pamela Jeffery notes that having learned important lessons about workplace flexibility during the pandemic, those in power must continue to heed those lessons.

“This comes down to choice,” she says. “Governments have the choice of how to roll out childcare to maximize affordability, accessibility and flexibility for working parents. Employers have the choice of whether or not to design hybrid workplace models that will make them employers of choice for top talent [and] whether or not they will prioritize women’s choices and economic growth.”

Ask Women and Work

Have a question about your work life? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.

Question: A couple of my workmates got pandemic puppies. My office has been slowly transitioning back to in-person work, and they’ve been bringing their dogs into the office. The problem is that I’m quite allergic to dogs. Do I have any recourse to prevent people from bringing their dogs in? Or is my only option to keep working from home? The office wasn’t dog-friendly before the pandemic. I don’t want to be the office meanie for requesting they keep their pooches home but my allergy affects my breathing and productivity.

We asked Janet Salopek, president and founder at business and human resources consultancy Salopek & Associates, to field this one:

This is a very timely question. Many businesses are making changes in the workplace as employees return to the office – reluctantly in many cases. One of those changes is that more employers are allowing dogs in the workplace as they realize the importance our pooches have in our lives and to our mental health. To retain their talent, organizations are saying ‘yes’ when employees ask, ‘Can I bring my dog?’ For these employers, a pet policy is critical as the business needs to pay attention to the health and wellness of all employees, including employees who may have an allergy to our furry friends.

If this allergy is debilitating (and since it affects breathing in this case, I would suggest that it is), then your employer has a duty to accommodate you, and you have every right to ask that you be provided with some options. One of these options may be to work from home; another may be that dogs are restricted in where they can be at the office and ‘no pet zones’ are established. People with allergies could work in these ‘no pet zones,’ and dogs would not be allowed in common workspaces such as shared offices, meeting rooms and lunchrooms, for example.

But how can you approach the situation without appearing like the ‘office meanie’? I would suggest having a candid and confidential discussion with your manager to share your concerns and ask that they discuss some options. Employers in today’s environment can’t afford to lose good employees and as a result, many are open to these discussions. Additionally, employers are also required, from a legislative perspective, to ensure a safe and healthy workplace and to accommodate an employee who has allergies.

Many employers understand the importance of listening to their employees and finding ways to make the return to the office a positive one. So, my advice is to speak up and have that conversation with your manager.

Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on the hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback on the series? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.