Zoe Kaplan
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Staff Writer & Content Strategist @ Fairygodboss

Hybrid work seems like the best of both worlds — some time spent working remotely, getting freedom and independence, and other times in office, collaborating and socializing with others. But for the women who work in hybrid roles, hybrid work isn’t benefiting them; instead, it’s holding them back.

Hybrid work is holding women back because it limits how much women are seen and heard at work. A majority of the women who work in hybrid environments — 60% — say they feel excluded from important meetings, according to Deloitte’s Women @ Work 2022 report. Nearly half of these same women don’t feel like they have enough exposure to leaders.

Women in hybrid roles are facing less inclusivity and more exclusivity. They are more likely to report that they feel excluded from informal interactions or conversations than remote or in-office working women. They also feel excluded from giving their ideas in meetings — and when they do share, they feel like they didn’t get credit for their ideas.

This lack of being seen and heard isn’t just hurting women’s careers; it’s having tangible effects on their mental health. Women who reported experiencing this exclusion also reported higher stress levels and worse mental health. 75% of women in a hybrid work environment say that they’re burned out compared to 46% of women overall; 41% of hybrid working women say they’ve had to take time off for their mental health compared to 33% of women overall.

These issues aren’t because hybrid work, as a way of working, is not suited for women. In fact, the benefits of hybrid work can help women in the ways it’s helped many members of the workforce — giving them more flexibility and better work-life balance, while still getting some time in-person to socialize with colleagues. But it’s the way that companies are doing this that isn’t working for women: leaving them behind and edging them out, mostly at the expense of their career and health.

If you’re struggling with hybrid work, here’s how to advocate for yourself and make hybrid work work for you.

1. Ask for clear expectations.

According to the Deloitte report, only 1 in 4 women who work in a hybrid setting says their employer “has set clear expectations of how and where they should work.”

While the basic understanding of what hybrid work is might be ubiquitous — some time in office, some not — what hybrid actually looks like from one company to another is drastically different. Some women might be in the office multiple days a week, for full days; others might be coming in just for a morning meeting twice a week. 

If you don’t have clear expectations of when you should be in the office, when you’re working remotely and communication standards, ask for them. Frame the conversation as a professional development opportunity — these expectations will not only help you work better, but hopefully help your team collaborate and work better together, too. Coming prepared with expectation ideas can help lighten the load from your manager and proactively help set the boundaries you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to get specific! Asking about how your manager wants you to communicate status updates, what hours they’d like you in the office and whether your camera needs to be on for remote meetings are all fair ground. 

2. Start a dialogue about flexibility.

Almost all women — 94%, to be exact — are worried that asking for a more flexible work schedule will negatively impact whether they’ll get a promotion. If you’re part of that majority, start conversations around flexibility before directly asking for more flexible work. This may be setting small flexible boundaries for yourself or encouraging a coworker to work a couple flex hours a week. The more normalized flexible work becomes, the easier it will be to ask for it — without fear of repercussions.

And if you do ask for flexibility, again, be really specific about what that flexibility looks like so the expectations are clear. Flexibility can mean autonomy and independence, but you still want your manager to trust you with it. Come prepared with a plan on what flexibility looks like to you and how you and your team can work together to make it happen.

3. Be conscious of proximity bias.

Women are feeling excluded at work because they’re being left out of meetings and not getting their share of important stakeholder time. Part of this is proximity bias. The Society for Human Resource Management defines proximity bias as “the tendency for people in positions of authority to show favoritism or give preferential treatment to employees who are closest to them physically.” 

If you’re already feeling invisible, it can be hard to raise your hand and try to make yourself seen and heard. Start by raising the issue with your manager and your team — they may not notice that they’re leaving you out of important conversations. It can be simple as saying something like, “Hey, it’d be really valuable for me to attend the meeting on X and I can bring Y to the conversation.” 

And while many of us are uncomfortable bragging, tooting our own horns is important, especially if we’re not feeling like our work is being seen. Be vocal about your accomplishments and the impact you’re making at work. Share status updates often to hold yourself accountable and remind the team of the work you’re doing, even if they can’t physically see you doing it.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes.

If it seems like companies are changing their return-to-office policies every other week, it’s because they are — even two years since the start of the pandemic and the rise of remote work, there’s still a lot to figure out. If your current work environment isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to make suggestions and ask for changes that work for you. The future of work is not set in stone, and you never know what options might be available to you unless you ask.

And if your current company and working environment still isn’t working for you, there are thousands of different work environments out there (even ones that are also hybrid but define what hybrid looks like differently!). The working world is a job seeker’s oyster — and you shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage of it.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for women struggling in hybrid environments? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!