Despite efforts to increase gender diversity, women still held just 25% of professional computing jobs in 2015, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology–down from a high of 36% in 1991. However, in one tech realm, women are closer to reaching equity: Remote work.
SEE: Download: 10 signs that you aren’t cut out to be a telecommuter (TechRepublic)
A study from Remote.co analyzed leadership by gender at 53 remote companies. It found that women made up 42% of leadership at remote companies, compared to 14% at S&P 500 companies. And 28% of the companies had a female founder or co-founder, compared to 18% of all startups in 2014.
Remote work opportunities are top priorities for women in tech, according to a 2017 study from Robert Walters and Jobsite: 76% of women surveyed said businesses offering remote opportunities would be more likely to retain top talent. This might take the form of fully remote jobs, or of offices that allow for some work from home options.
“Particularly among tech firms, the freedom to work remotely is becoming increasingly popular with professionals,” said Dawn May, manager at Robert Walters, in a statement about the findings. “The flexibility these policies afford staff is a powerful draw for top talent and employers should consider whether they can introduce or expand these policies within their own organisation to secure the best professionals.”
Often, “some people who live in depressed areas or rural communities don’t have opportunities to get good tech jobs, so they have to move or take lower-skill jobs,” said Jason Fried, CEO and co-founder of Basecamp and co-author of Remote: Office Not Required. “Women are often victims of that. Remote work can open doors for people who are very qualified but can’t get a job nearby or maybe don’t have transportation, as long as they can get a laptop and internet connection.”
Remote work shouldn’t be a benefit–“it should be the way we set up more productive offices that are more gender diverse,” said Katharine Zaleski, cofounder and president of Power to Fly, a company that aims to improve recruiting and hiring for women. “If you don’t allow that to happen for a woman in her mid-30s, that woman may ultimately leave the workplace.”
Women who have children need flexibility in the workplace, Zaleski said. Power to Fly‘s cofounder recently had a baby, and will be able to return to work much sooner than she otherwise would due to the job being remote, she added.
A Pew Research Center study found that 51% of women said being a working mother made it more difficult to advance their careers, while only 15% of working fathers said the same. It also found that 42% of mothers reduced their work hours to care for a child or family member, compared to 28% of fathers. Further, 27% of mothers said they quit their job to care for their family, while only 10% of fathers did the same.
According to a study from the Center for Work-Life Policy, 56% of technical women leave their job at the mid-level point–more than double the quit rate for men. One-third of women surveyed by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee said they left the tech industry because companies were not flexible enough to accommodate an adequate work-life balance.
Nearly half of married female alumni of Harvard Business School aged 30 or younger reported that they chose a more flexible job due to family responsibilities, while 26% said they slowed their career pace.
Companies considering allowing remote work should frame it as something that will make your entire team more productive, Zaleski said. It cuts commute times and can foster concentration, so long as people are working toward specific goals and deliverables. Plus, research shows that business teams with equal numbers of women and men perform better in terms of sales and profits than do male-dominated teams.
Her advice? “Start early,” Zaleski said. “It’s much harder to go backwards on hiring women. When you have a critical mass of women in a group, you get more women. Diversity begets diversity.”