Men Are Back at the Office. Women, However…

Nearly as many women are working from home today as during the height of the pandemic. Experts offer reasons, and a warning to leaders.

During the pandemic, more than 3.5 million US mothers with school-age children left the workforce, either because they lost their jobs or because they quit to take care of loved ones.

Today, those moms, and women in general, are back at work, but they’re more likely than men to be doing that work at home. Thirteen percent more women than men worked from home in 2022, nearly the same size gap as at the height of the pandemic in 2020, according to a new survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. All told, more than four in ten employed women, or 41%, worked at least partly at home on an average day in 2022. Only 28% of men said they worked at least partly at home.

These situations put women workers in a bind—in ways that should alarm leaders looking for the strongest workforce. Women typically are at home more, experts say, because they handle more of the burden of child or family care. But that means potentially losing out to in-office workers on advancements, even if the woman working from home is a better performer. “I think one of the obvious considerations is unconscious location bias,” says Kristi Drew, a senior client partner and global account leader in Korn Ferry’s Financial Services practice. If more men are in the office, she says, “they may be more visible and top of mind for key assignments.”

Before the pandemic, of course, there wasn’t as big a gap between who worked where. In 2019, 26% of women worked at least home part of the time, while 22% of men did. COVID created all-remote workforces, and women are now having a tougher time returning. On an average day, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found, 47% of women report doing housework, compared with 22% of men. Education levels also might be making a difference. On average, women in the workforce tend to have a higher level of education than men do, and college-educated people are far more likely than people without a degree to work from home.

If the trend continues, experts say organizations should consider adjusting their practices to ensure that women working from home aren’t punished when it comes to advancement. For one thing, “firms need to realize that there is a gap in the first place,” says Maria Amato, a Korn Ferry senior client partner. Then managers need to make sure that remote workers have all the tools and resources they need to do their work productively and effectively. Finally, promotion criteria need to be explicitly stated and based on performance, not face time.

At the same time, women should be intentional about when they are in the office and use these opportunities to seek out colleagues and managers. “Employees working remotely don’t bond as strongly with company and coworkers, nor develop the same kind of trusting depth of relationships,” says Ron Porter, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and member of the firm’s Human Resources Center of Expertise. For her part, Drew says that women—whether at home or the office—should push for challenging and critical assignments. “In many cases, women already have to work harder, or perhaps more accurately, smarter, to ensure they are seen as equal contributors,” Drew says. 


Learn more about Korn Ferry’s People Strategy and Performance capabilities.