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Managing the gender gap remotely

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

Lydia Kothmeier, VP of Operations at enterprise CMS Storyblok, discusses how businesses can navigate the gender gap when working remotely.

Many of us who once worked in the traditional 9-5 office setup will remember what it was like.

gender gap

Yes, there might have been a punishing commute, distractions and a lack of privacy. But on the plus side it’s likely that there will have been impromptu chats, closer collaboration and most importantly of all, access to real-life mentoring and in-person support.

This absence becomes more pertinent in the context of a gender gap that has barely closed in recent years. Women are still likely to earn lower wages and have less parity than their male counterparts. Studies also show that still they find it harder to speak up and forge deep working relationships. Therefore the remote working shift – which can make it more difficult to connect with colleagues and develop mentoring – brings new implications for the gender divide. Indicative of this, one recent study found that 45% of women said it’s difficult to speak up in virtual meetings. A further 20% of women said they had felt ignored or overlooked by their colleagues during video calls. It doesn’t help too that women are inherently more susceptible to taking on more and struggling to switch off when remote working. Therefore, for those companies going remote, the big question is –  what can business leaders do to support better gender equality and inclusivity? 

Storyblok is fairly unusual in that it has been fully remote since it was founded in 2017. We’ve grown to a team of 230+ people in 45+ countries, and have a proven track record in providing a supportive, progressive workplace for everyone –  including women who make up 40 percent of our team. This has meant we’ve had to spend a lot of time developing processes and policies that fit remote work, and employing technology to ensure an inclusive, nurturing team –  of all genders, ages, abilities and backgrounds. 

Remote culture

One of the biggest challenges when transitioning to a remote work setup is maintaining company culture. How, after all, is it possible to account for those all-important ‘watercooler’ conversations, socials or team catch ups, all of which are key for relationship building? This is especially important for part-time employees, those returning from maternity or paternity leave, or working flexible hours who may not feel as tight-knit in the workplace community.

Here it’s important to curate a culture which is inclusive and everyone has a voice. At Storyblok, for example, employees are able to send questions in ‘Ask me Anything’ sessions either verbally, in written form or anonymously. We also send out lots of surveys throughout the year.  Depending on the type of person, this variety of communication possibilities ensures everyone gets a different chance to speak up and express their thoughts, needs, or ideas. Of course too, we run an annual review where employees are able to talk through feedback with their manager.

Ultimately, our approach isn’t to write a one-size-fits-all rule book – it’s about bonding people on a human level so they fully understand each other’s perspectives and create a unique culture that has space for everyone. As part of this, we also organise randomised ‘coffee chats’  where people speak for 30 minutes to their colleagues in different teams. This enables people to break the ice with people they may not get the chance to regularly interact with. 

In this way, fully remote or hybrid working requires a level playing field where everyone feels like they are equally involved, engaged and heard. This becomes especially important considering women are more likely than men to work remotely in order to balance work around domestic duties. In this way, culture should revolve around self-empowerment and autonomy.

Management

Another challenge is management. With some nuances lost through technological communication, we recognise that it can be daunting for employees to be left to decipher requests through short instant messages or email without the opportunity to connect with their co-workers in person for clarity. We also recognise that the virtual forum isn’t necessarily always conductive to introverts, making it easier for quieter team members to fade into the background. Given that studies show that many female workers already struggle to speak up, this becomes an even more crucial focus.

To address this, we hold regular check-ins where we go through each team member’s goals and ask where they are. For some members it can also help to have a meeting at the beginning of the week and define the weekly tasks and review them at the end of the week together. Communication can happen via Slack, recorded videos or meetings. 

We want to avoid micromanagement and don’t believe daily meetings are needed to evaluate the performance. Good managers will know who is performing as they focus on the result. How they achieve the goal is open, as there are different paths to achieve them. Making more data-driven assessments of performance can help to take human bias out of the equation.  For example, some managers may subconsciously favour in-house team members they talk to face-to-face and reward them accordingly. Relying more on the hard facts (achieved goals, met deadlines, met KPI) can remove this danger and also help with diversity and inclusion.

Alongside this it’s important to create a systematic approach to checking in on your team’s health and wellbeing. As a good manager, it is essential to ask your team member – what is your preferred way of communicating? How would you structure our communication? You do not want anyone falling through the cracks and it is very easy for a remote worker to suffer in silence. Vigilance is key. Care about them, ask them how they are, create an environment of trust, listen to them, make sure they don’t do too much overtime and they take off. All of that can be done in regular check-ins with your team in the guise that they prefer.

It also helps that we have a very diverse, vibrant team made up of lots of female senior leaders who are able to provide mentorship to other female employees. Drawing on their own first-hand experience of working in the male-dominant tech space, they are able to provide inspiration and advice on breaking through boundaries and reaching their potential. Going beyond even gender, our belief is that we should break down cultural norms, beliefs, stereotypes, and patterns – we can all be whoever we want to be

Tech stack

Technology has a huge role to play in enabling your hybrid or remote startup to work efficiently and productively. From day one, we invested in Notion, Slack, top end IT equipment such as webcams, microphones, headphones, G-Suite, Salesforce and simple time savers such as DocuSign. This is underscored with a holistic strategy which details communication, documentation, collaboration, onboarding and synchronised work to ensure everyone has the means to work effectively, efficiently and towards the same goal. 

Importantly, we also utilise bambooHR for performance reviews. In the performance review we request feedback from team members and give the manager a chance to give feedback and the team member. It is a safe space where people allocate time to discuss the current situation and future growth potential of  team members. The mid-year and annual-review helped me as a manager to improve my collaboration with the team as we work in a fast changing environment and every team member needs an individual management style. The performance review setup in our HRIS enables managers a well-rounded approach which is fair and unbiased.

Big benefits

Undoubtedly, there are vast benefits to be had from going remote including increased opportunity, productivity gains, better diversity and internationalisation. However, it’s important that business leaders do not overlook the importance of supporting all workers – including women – to form close relationships, build confidence, learn from others and grow professionally as part of the transition in order to continue to break down the bias.

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