If women are forced to choose between caring for their families and travelling to a fluorescent-lit cubicle to kiss the proverbial boot, proponents of a strong national GDP are probably not going to like the outcome.
An opinion piece penned by Gus Carlson was published recently in The Globe and Mail. Its title, “Dear entitled white-collar workers: Time to grow up and return to the office,” is meant to prick the pride of the modern office worker. But it’s a stale old complaint from an aging patriarchy—a “kids these days,” blatantly missing any understanding of the entrenched gender bias espoused by a return-to-office-full-stop position.
When we cut through accusations of laziness and poor productivity, backed by not a single ounce of data, it isn’t hard to find the real gripe for the Mr. Carlsons of the world. They feel bereft for the loss of the old boys’ club and long for the days of golf games, boozy business lunches, and obligatory compliments from inferior employees. The Government should be wary of these views.
There are no facts or figures in Mr. Carlson’s opinion article, just a feeling that remote work should be penalized. I’m sure his personal beliefs mean a great deal to his buddies, but I have always preferred facts.
The Prosperity Project publishes data about the realities faced by people in Canadian households in our semi-annual CHP Report. Our recent report showed that 85% of Canadians favour a continuation of remote and hybrid working models. Only 39% said they would like a complete return to the office. Those who did (these were mostly men, by the way) cited a fear of missing out on office goings-on as their main reason for wanting to reinstate the morning commute.
This wasn’t the most salient finding in our recent report. It also showed that 77% of women have considered stepping down due to concerns about childcare, stress in the workplace, and a lack of support from employers. To call it a troubling statistic would be a drastic understatement. It should be a major concern for all Canadians, especially for a government interested in boosting productivity and economic growth. If women are forced to choose between caring for their families and travelling to a fluorescent-lit cubicle to kiss the proverbial boot, proponents of a strong national GDP are probably not going to like the outcome.
This choice between family and returning to work may very well be thrust upon women as childcare access remains elusive despite major federal investment. Beyond the challenge of balancing caregiver and professional roles, women in the workplace face a daily gauntlet—from innocuous things, like the expectation that women clean up the break room, to more insidious harms like innuendo and sexual objectification. And women with intersecting identities face these at a much higher rate. Of course, getting folks into the office can be necessary to run efficiently and effectively for certain companies and specific sectors, but this does not call for an arbitrary adoption of an office-or-bust approach. The return to in-person work should be intentional. It should be planned according to the actual requirements of a business, not the maintenance of an archaic fantasy about the ideal worker. Perhaps most importantly, it should be planned with consideration for fairness, equity, and the real economic cost of removing flexible work.
Though much work remains (especially for Black, Indigenous, women of colour and women with disabilities)—women in Canada have spent decades painstakingly building a foothold for themselves on the corporate ladder. Remote work gave a small boost to their efforts by providing some of them the ability to seek advancement in balance with their families and lives. Shall we give up the progress we’ve made to suit the egos of a few elites (mostly white heterosexual cisgender men) who fear the personal consequences of a more equitable approach to work? The answer to that question has major implications for Canada’s economy.