Women in remote-work environments

Jan 23, 2022

AEC firm leaders must actively support and empower female employees so their visibility does not vanish in the remote workplace.

Men and women working outside of the office tend to be less visible and can often be passed over for career advancement opportunities. That’s a real concern, from an equity standpoint, as researchers from the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that despite remote employees having improved work satisfaction, their promotion rate fell. The recent transition to remote work for many in the AEC industry has made this concern critical for all staff, but especially for women. According to McKinsey, for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted. Companies and AEC leaders must keep women advised and empowered to seize important career opportunities in our new modern work environment.

My firm, Urban Engineers, implemented a flexible remote work policy as a result of COVID and we have taken steps to focus on equity and help use “cultural glue” to keep staff engaged, empowered, and ultimately, visible to their colleagues, even when they are not seeing each other in person.

A key way to make sure women are not being overlooked in the remote workplace is to highlight their accomplishments wherever possible. Managers need to take notice of the activities of staff, and promote good work through the many channels we now have available to us. Internal newsletters, social media, email blasts, and even group chat programs like Teams or Slack are avenues to be used to promote the work of all your employees, especially women. If managers are aware of a remote employee’s success story, they need to bring that forward. Perhaps the person’s work was essential to complete a project or provided an innovative approach to solve a problem – all of it done remotely. Firms need to highlight and celebrate employee accomplishments. When nominating staff for awards programs, it is important to ensure that female employees are considered for nomination as often as their male counterparts.

Internal employee resource groups are also a great way to provide critical support to women and other diverse groups – and this is even more important in a remote-work environment. In the switch to remote-work, it is important that AEC firms continue to invest in them. Our firm supports several different groups for different audiences, including a younger members’ forum, an LGBTQ+ alliance, and a women’s professional network that has been active for almost 15 years. These groups keep employees engaged with the firm and provide a venue for them to advocate for issues relating to their direct concerns. They also allow for mentor-mentee relationships to build so employees can advocate for each other, allowing them to be seen and develop a professional support system that will assist in maintaining an individual’s desired career path.

Many professional societies and associations are specifically targeted to empower and promote women in the industry, while others have ally groups to support them. Our firm has always seen employee participation in professional organizations as an investment. They offer educational seminars and networking opportunities to enhance one’s abilities and connections. We have encouraged staff to take on leadership and board positions with these organizations so they are able to gain even more insight in the industry, and become more visible and influential among their peers. In the switch to more remote interaction, participation in professional societies has not slowed down as meetings and seminars are able to be held virtually. Women who take on leadership positions in originations like Women’s Transportation Seminar or the Society of Women Engineers gain valuable experience that will set them up for future professional success.

It is important that employees have a positive work-life balance, and anecdotally, women in leadership positions at my firm say working remotely is helping them improve the balance. Some employees are more productive working from home, and productive staff benefit the company. It is a win-win scenario, as long as the employees and work are managed appropriately, and individuals are not overlooked.

We need to celebrate all of our staff more than ever. Our communications have to be stronger – from co-worker to co-worker and from supervisor to employee – in a remote work environment so that we’re all visible, given the same opportunities, and celebrated for our successes. There is still work to be done, but acknowledging that remote-work can disproportionally affect the career advancement of women in the workplace is a start. The next step is to take action to counteract this effect to maintain an inclusive and equitable workplace. 

Kenneth Fulmer is the president and CEO of Urban Engineers. He can be reached at krfulmer@urbanengineers.com.

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