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Could Telecommuting Close the Chore Gap?

Topics: Work Culture
chore gap

Eighty to 90 percent of workers say they’d like to have the option to telecommute, at least part-time, according to research from Global Workplace Analytics. More workers have the option than ever before: telecommuting increased 115 percent between 2005 and 2015. Remote work is changing the way we live and work, and it will continue to do so in the years to come.

Other things are changing, too. Progress has been slow, but gender equity issues are a point of focus for many individuals, companies and families. Untangling old knots around housework seems to be especially tricky. Women are still doing almost all of the housework, even when they’re the breadwinners. But, could the rise of telecommuting opportunities actually help to shift this dynamic — or will it make the situation even worse?

The Gender Chore Gap Is Gigantic

We’ve come a long way as a society when it comes to gender equity over the course of the last century.  Women are now more likely to get a college degree than men. However, the gender pay gap persists, in part because women are less likely to hold high-paying jobs and leadership roles than men.

This phenomenon is called the opportunity gap and it’s a real issue. PayScale’s data show that men are 85 percent more likely than women to be VPs or C-suite execs by mid-career.

Why are women less likely to advance? In part because they still shoulder much more of the burden when it comes to housework and childcare. According to the latest American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women still spend more time doing housework (cleaning, laundry, etc.), food preparation and cleanup and childcare than men.

Housework Is Holding Women Back Professionally

Of course, these differences have an impact on women’s careers. Between the pay gap and the chore gap, women can feel pressure to be the ones to step back from their careers to raise children.

“For many women, staying home is their desire. But for many more, it’s a decision of convenience. Our society is structured in such a way that gives us the most rewards for living in the way it deems we should,” writes Darlena Cunha at Time. “Fifteen years ago, we found ourselves putting in huge amounts of effort to work outside the home, and we got very little reward in return. We learned that, yes, we can venture outside of this societal box of mother and homemaker, but our culture does not invite it, does not make it easy for us, and does not make it worth our very valuable time and effort.”

When women do choose to remain in the workforce, they still take a hit. Thanks to gender stereotyping, parenthood hurts moms’ careers but not dads’. Research has determined that women earn about 4 percent less with every child they have, while men earn 6 percent more after becoming fathers.

Will Telecommuting Close the Gap … or Make Things Worse?

So, how might the rise of telecommuting change the way men and women share responsibilities at home? There is both good news and bad. First, telecommuting opportunities could help men and women to divide up household tasks more evenly. Unfortunately, remote work could also make the situation worse.

It’s important to keep in mind that telecommuters are working when they’re working from home. They shouldn’t be expected to shoulder additional household duties during the day because they have “flexibility.” They’re just as busy as someone in an office. However, despite this, some telecommuters do attend to household chores during the day. Thirty-five percent of telecommuters admit to having done household chores while working remotely and 28 percent confess they’ve prepared dinner.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how men and women harness the opportunities that come with working remotely. If a family decides that the woman should telecommute, and that this arrangement can “free her up” to attend to the vast majority of housework and childcare, the gap grows wider. But, if men and women both telecommute, perhaps part-time, and use this schedule to facilitate better time-management and an equal division of labor, it could help to make things better.

“Remote work isn’t a fairy tale, but remote work does come with special qualities that make it ideal in so many ways: It can maximize your time by speeding up and streamlining meetings, it eliminates commutes, it affords parents the chance to easily stay involved with school dropoffs and pickups, and it can be a great chance for partners to reconnect and establish a new paradigm for balancing paid work and domestic chores,” writes Scott Morris at Skillcrush. “But—like anything in a relationship—none of this happens on its own. Direct and honest communication about your needs, your feelings, and your expectations are key, as is a concrete set of plans and routines coming out of those conversations.”

The trick is to consciously consider the way telecommuting opportunities can be utilized to make things more equitable. Telecommuting should not be used as a justification for women to work two full-time jobs while men only work at one.

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