The myth of the telework gender gap
- By Colby Hochmuth
- Jun 10, 2014
With the popularity and efficiency of teleworking on the rise, managers have begun to come to grips with what managing the future federal workforce will entail. And, as the Office of Personnel Management and other researchers more fully examine the effects of telework on productivity, a more complete picture of the demographics of teleworkers is beginning to surface.
One of the biggest shifts revealed by that research is the perception of who teleworks. The myth that teleworking is the nearly exclusive province of women with small children has been crushed by recent studies.
According to one report, in the federal government, more men than women reported teleworking. According to the annual OPM’s 2013 Status of Telework in the Federal Government report to Congress, the majority of teleworkers, 51 percent, were men.
World at Work’s 2011 telework report found that the average U.S. teleworker profile in 2010 was male, 40 years old and college educated.
“The findings suggest that most teleworkers are knowledge workers, contradicting the stereotype that teleworkers are mostly working mothers who need to have autonomy to work when, how and where they work best in order to deal with family issues,” the report said.
Since the first report under the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, which made wider telework for federal employees practical, the number of employees with telework agreements increased by 84 percent, and the number of employees determined to be eligible for telework increased by 49 percent.
Another 2013 study on telework by Flex + Strategy Group found 71 percent of respondents who said they did most of their work from a remote location were men.
The trend is apparent, but some disparity remains in the numbers.
According to the 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, more female than male respondents were eligible to telework -- 41.5 percent of women and 37.1 percent of men. Also, according to the survey, more women telework every week -- 11.9 percent telework one to two days per week, compared with 7 percent of men.
One reason may be because of the relative scarcity of women in senior leadership positions in government, said Mika Cross, a workplace transformation strategist working as a presidential management fellow at OPM.
“When you look at the federal workforce, there is a disparity of women, more men are in senior official positions,” Cross said. “Those positions are often more mission critical and aren’t thought of as being able to leave the office.”
World at Work’s telework report also found that only 21 percent of managers were trained on how to successfully manage employees with a flexible work arrangement.
Cindy Auten, general manager at Mobile Work Exchange, said managing a mobile employee requires a cultural change for workplace leaders.
“You have to train managers to have different mindsets,” Auten said. “It has a lot to do with changing the culture and expectations from top leadership -- the notion of ‘I have to see you to know you’re working’ is something that is going away slowly.”
An environment where “workers have to be in their seats,” is an unproductive one, Auten said.
Aside from proven productivity cost-savings, agencies can also save money in real estate and transit subsidies with telework. The General Services Administration -- in effect the federal government’s Realtor -- is an example of one agency that has been able to cut its real estate costs by embracing more employee telework.
“Telework isn’t the end-all solution,” Auten said “But it has to be part of the equation and has to be part of the balance. Telework is a very strong productivity tool.”
Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.