Women working from home risk being caught in a ‘she-cession’

Bank of England policymaker warns spontaneity vital for career progress hard to replicate in virtual setting

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Last modified on Fri 12 Nov 2021 05.09 EST

Women who work mostly from home risk hurting their careers and getting caught in a “she-cession” as more men return to office working post-pandemic, a Bank of England policymaker has warned.

Catherine Mann, a member of the Bank’s monetary policy committee, said that virtual working methods, such as video conferencing, were unable to replicate spontaneous office conversations that are important to career advancement.

“Virtual platforms are way better than they were even five years ago,” Mann said, speaking at an event for women in finance hosted by the newspaper Financial News. “But the extemporaneous, spontaneity – those are hard to replicate in a virtual setting.”

Women aren’t returning to work to the same extent as men, and when they are working, they are more likely to be working from home. Issues include difficulty accessing childcare, and disruption to schooling because of the pandemic has led to more women continuing to work remotely.

“There is the potential for two tracks,” she said. “There’s the people who are on the virtual track and people who are on the physical track. And I do worry that we will see those two tracks develop, and we will pretty much know who’s going to be on which track, unfortunately.”

Vincent Keaveny, the Lord Mayor of London, said that the City was seeing increasing numbers of staff returning to the office in the UK’s financial centre.

“The City is coming back to life,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday. “It is a really important thing for younger members of the sector to get the training they need, the creativity, the collegiality that the office brings.”

Keaveny, a partner at law firm DLA Piper, said that companies should be left to set their own policies on staff return to work and that there is not a one size fits all post-pandemic model.

“I think every company is coming at this from different places,” he said. “I don’t think we should be telling people, telling companies, we shouldn’t be micromanaging companies on an approach to this issue. But there is a very strong message that the city is open. We’d love to see more people coming back.”

The proportion of employees travelling into work has progressively increased since national restrictions were relaxed in March, rising to more than 50% in August when a further rule change meant that those who have been double vaccinated do not have to self-isolate, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Previous ONS research had found that women were more likely to work from home than men because it gave them my time to work with fewer distractions.

In August, chancellor Rishi Sunak warned younger workers that they could put their careers at risk if they worked from home.

Mann was an economics professor and chief economist at Citigroup and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, before joining the Bank of England’s rate setting MPC in September. She is one of only two women on the nine-member committee.

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