The myth of the telework gender gap

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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.”

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.

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Reader comments

Tue, Feb 10, 2015 John Doe

While I agree that with the findings, I would however, state that the data might be looked at in a different way as well. The "average user" being male, 40 and college educated is possibly being skewed by IT professionals, which are overwhelmingly male, college educated and 25-50 but who's jobs have almost always allowed them to work at home. Is this the same as an office employee who after 15 years working in a building decides to work from home? I would say no. I would like to see the figures with IT professionals factored out, it could be totally different. Either way, this was a very intresting study.

Tue, Jun 17, 2014

@Joey. The nature of almost all jobs is a certain amount of contact. The problem comes when you need to have the contact, the ones you need to be in contact with are teleworking that day. Very disruptive and inefficient, IMHO.

Mon, Jun 16, 2014 Joey

Telework can make sense, but there are times when does not happen working apart or with limited contact. I believe, being female, that women like having that shared experience, possible more than men. My friend, however, was happy processing claims at home because the nature of her work did not require ongoing contact. The nature of my work requires a certain amount of contact.

Fri, Jun 13, 2014

I've never heard of any myth about women being the primary teleworkers. Sometimes I think journalists "frame" an issue the way they want in order to make a point, then present data to support their beliefs. It's called "confirmation bias" and I think we would all be better served just being factual and honest. Telework is a great boondagle to all workers. They can either work, or not work when teleworking and they've got the perfect cover either way. Why wouldn't all human beings want this?

Wed, Jun 11, 2014

Interesting myth - I have never heard of it. While I never gave it much thought, I always visualized the teleworkers as mostly men.

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