Gender parity is a big issue in the workforce, especially when it comes to the disparate number of men and women in leadership roles. But we’ve seen an interesting recent trend—remote companies seem to have more women leaders than traditional companies do.
The workforce gender gaps (gaps in pay rates and in women business leaders), on the whole, are not getting better. When it comes to the gender pay gap, the World Economic Forum (WEF) says it’s actually getting worse for the first time since the organization began tracking this metric in 2006. “Given current rates of change, this year’s ‘Global Gender Gap Report’ estimates it will be another 217 years before we achieve gender parity.”
Women in leadership roles is exactly what is needed to close the gender gap, says WEF. “Our data shows that when women are better represented in leadership roles, more women are hired across the board. This holds true even when considering disparities in the size of female talent pools across industries.”
There is at least one bright spot in the world of gender parity at work: companies with large remote workforces have more women in leadership roles than traditional companies.
More Women CEOs and Founders in Remote Companies
Remote.co just completed research on the CEOs and founders of 128 mostly or completely remote companies.
We found that remote companies seem to have a higher percentage of women in these leadership roles than traditional office-based companies:
- 28% of mostly or completely remote companies have either women CEOs, founders, or presidents
- 19% have women CEOs
When we further refined the data to look at 77 of those 128 companies that are 100% remote (i.e., have no office or physical location), we still find a high percentage of women in leadership:
- 29% of completely remote companies have either women CEOs, founders, or presidents
- 13% have women CEOs
How do these numbers compare to more traditional brick-and-mortar companies and startups with largely in-office workforces? It’s a stark contrast:
- In S&P 500 companies, 5.2% of CEOs are women as of 2017.
- In Fortune 500 companies, 6.4% of CEOs are women (the highest proportion in the 63-year history of the Fortune 500).
- Only 17% of startups in 2017 had women founders, a stat that hasn’t changed since 2012.
- Women-led startups landed 4.94% of all venture capital funding in 2016—the highest percentage in the past decade.
Women-Led Remote Companies Now Hiring
If you’re in the market for a remote job, these women-led companies are all currently hiring for remote positions. Each position was active as of November 3, 2017 and is fully remote.
- Greenback Expat Tax Services: U.S. Certified Public Accountant or Enrolled Agent
- Worldwide101: Executive Assistant
- Pagely: Freelance Writer
- Acceleration Partners: Talent Aquisition Manager
- Ciao Bambino! Inc.: Family Travel Advisor
- Equivity: Virtual Executive Assistant – Bilingual
- MomsRising.org: Financial-Operations Manager
- Jackson River: DevOps Engineer
- FlexJobs: UX Designer
Why Remote Companies Have More Women Leaders
Of course, data like this makes us ask the question: why do remote companies seem to have far more women in top leadership posts than traditional companies?
A number of factors may contribute to this result, but it ultimately comes down to the idea that, perhaps, remote work is inherently more supportive of women progressing in the workforce because it’s a more flexible way to work for everyone.
Remote work, on the whole, is a better fit for anyone who needs or wants to better balance both their work and their personal responsibilities.
Why is that? It’s because remote work requires companies to focus on the most important aspects of work—productivity, progress, results—rather than less important things like face time in the office, office politics, traditional notions of what leadership “looks like,” popularity or likability, or hours spent at your desk.
By contrast, traditional offices still erect, knowingly or not, invisible barriers that make it more difficult for highly qualified women to advance.
Several recent studies and reports have shed a light on these barriers:
- The Attitude Barrier: The Rockefeller Foundation found that 65% of people say the attitudes of men in top leadership positions are a barrier to female leadership (90% of women believe this and 49% of men believe it).
- The Caregiving Barrier: The New York Times reported that “half or more of the women who earn an M.B.A. this year will drop out of the full-time work force within a decade” and cited family conflicts as one of the main reasons. A lack of comprehensive family leave policies at most companies makes it impossible for men and women to balance work and life when raising children (or caring for aging parents or other family members who need a caregiver), and as a default, caregiving responsibilities still largely fall to women.
The result of both reality and perception is a severe lack of women in the pipeline for leadership opportunities.
Comprehensive paid family leave is one piece of the solution. While Congress doesn’t seem to be in a place to act on this soon, more large companies (American Express, 3M, Ikea, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Twitter, and others) are finally crafting strong family leave policies that allow both men and women to take part in caregiving.
But paid leave is just one goal. Perhaps more holistically, remote work offers a comprehensive way for all professionals to integrate work and life responsibilities throughout their careers, regardless of the responsibilities they have outside of the “office.”
Remote Company Women Leaders Weigh In: Why Remote Works
We went straight to the source—the women founders and leaders of these remote companies—to find out why remote companies might have a stronger representation of women in leadership positions.
These reasons are not an exhaustive list of every reason remote companies seem to have more women leaders, but they do represent the reasons we heard over and over again during interviews with eight remote company leaders.
Reason #1: Remote companies create more space to handle conflicting responsibilities.
As Sandra Lewis, founder and director of Worldwide101, explains, “I believe having a virtual company creates more space for work-life balance than a traditional office environment.”
Lewis, like many remote workers, feels more productive than if she worked in an office. “There are hundreds of studies out there proving that remote work increases productivity—and I am no exception. Less distraction, shorter meetings and more structured processes make for a shorter workday.”
Shorter workdays, but with more productivity? It works because people are given control over when, where, and how they work.
“I think that’s why many women are saying ‘enough is enough’ and starting their own ventures virtually, where they have the control over their work schedule, hours, and location,” says Lewis. “I very much believe it’s the future of work, and all these women are truly the pioneers.”
Reason #2: Remote work forces fewer trade-offs when maneuvering work and life priorities.
Because of the caregiving barrier mentioned above, “It is extremely challenging for women at the top of brick-and-mortar companies to meet the strict demands of a work schedule that allows for little flexibility,” says Ellen Grealish, FlexProfessionals’ co-founder and partner.
“I believe that women, for the most part, still take the lead role of caregiver and/or homemaker regardless if they are working full-time or not,” says Grealish. “They are forced to make trade-offs because a lack of flexibility dictates when and where they must be working. They are therefore restricted in how they manage their schedules both personally and professionally.”
Remote work removes many of those restrictions.
Reason #3: Remote work doesn’t care about face time or “looking like” a leader.
Alice Hendricks, CEO of Jackson River, says one of the biggest benefits of remote work for women is “not having to spend so much of their lives playing the part of a leader who looks a certain way, and instead just get on with the business of running teams, producing results, and being the leaders that their companies need.”
Long hours in the office, executive wardrobes, and other visually based assessments of someone’s qualifications to be a leader become obsolete in a remote environment. And that’s great news, because they were never good measures of leadership potential.
As so many studies have found, the average office worker is productive for only around three hours (2 hours and 53 minutes, precisely, according to one study). But for too long, one performance measure has been the amount of time devoted to being in the office—even if those hours were largely filled with unproductive busy work or distractions.
In a remote environment, as Hendricks put it, teams must have better performance measurement tools. “We have built-in mechanisms for collaborating, staying connected, evaluating performance, and promoting staff through the ranks into leadership, without having to see each other each day.”
And those mechanisms for collaboration and performance evaluation may make it possible for more women to advance to positions of leadership, or found companies to begin with.
Reason #4: Remote work creates a more level playing field for all professionals to balance work and life goals.
Remote teams often have to be more deliberate in how they structure and build their company cultures, measure performance, and advance people into leadership.
Helen Southgate, the managing director of Acceleration Partners, says that “by providing the right structure, technology, processes and training, companies with a remote workforce can build a culture based on trust, loyalty, hard work and collaboration and for many people, this creates a more effective and enjoyable working environment.
And that’s ultimately what sets remote companies apart.
Creating a more effective work environment also has the potential to lead to a more effective leadership structure where advancement, promotions, and recognition are based less on outdated management techniques or ideas of what leadership looks like, or being able to rely on wives or mothers always taking the role of the main caregiver for children or aging parents, and based more on any one person’s ability to do the job.
Keep reading Remote.co in the coming weeks for more insights about women-led and women-founded remote companies!
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