The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in the age of remote work. Video conferencing has become the new way we stay in touch with colleagues. This has brought many benefits to all employees, including saving travel time to and from the office, saving money on transport and lunches. Even more impactful is how video conferencing has removed many of the challenges women encounter at the workplace and looks set to permanently alter gender roles for the better.
The Mute Button
Requesting video conferencing participants to mute themselves when another person is speaking may be the biggest boon for women in the workplace. Research indicates that women are more likely than men to get interrupted in meetings. It’s usually both men and women doing the interrupting.
Not only does the mute button keep feedback and extraneous noises from interrupting a speaker, but it deters interruptions in general. A listener is far less likely to cut into a presentation or ask unnecessary questions when they have to deactivate their mute button to do so.
Video Conference Attire
Unfairly, no amount of degrees or C-Suite ranking can remove the perceptions that occur from a short skirt or a blouse with a low neckline. As thorny as the subject is, video conferencing takes away much of the hazards of workplace attire.
For women, there’s no need to weigh the professionalism of heels over the comfort of flats. Remote work simply requires professional, clean, and presentable clothing, within the confines of the webcam.
Video conferencing has reduced us to talking heads atop a pair of shoulders. Many of the factors that remind people of your gender are invisible. Body shape, height, size, gait, shoes, perfume – none of these things transmit over the internet through a video call. As such, many of the biases that exist in a physical office, whether consciously or unconsciously, disappear.
Additionally, screen sharing during presentations makes the presentation the hero, without distractions from the way the presenter is dressed or how they move about the room. In this way, video conferencing levels the playing field, allowing the content to stand out rather than the speaker.
Video conferencing flips the script on gender roles. Or, perhaps, it removes the script altogether.
No more awkward moments choosing between a hug or a handshake from a male colleague. Women no longer find themselves drawn into helping with the setup of a meeting, arranging glassware and refreshments. There’s no need to worry whether serving male colleagues undermines your position in negotiations.
The gender role assignments often taken up by women are called “office housework.” Women may feel pressured to be the person to arrange chairs, tidy up or plan office parties. Virtual meetings circumvent these office housework situations making them largely obsolete.
Though not all women experience gender biases in the workplace, plenty do. Video conferencing removes many of the scenarios in which these occur, enabling women to showcase their skills instead. It may seem like a small step in a new direction, but just like remote work, we believe these changes are here to stay.