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Bank of England (BoE) policymaker Catherine Mann has said that working from home may hurt women disproportionately in their careers now that greater numbers of workers are heading back into the office after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.
Women who work from home may suffer, as online communication cannot replicate the spontaneous office conversations that are important for recognition and advancement in many workplaces and business settings, Mann, a member of the BoE's Monetary Policy Committee, said.
"Virtual platforms are way better than they were even five years ago. But the extemporaneous, spontaneity — those are hard to replicate in a virtual setting," she told an event for women in finance hosted by newspaper Financial News.
Mann pointed to difficulty accessing childcare and COVID-related disruption to schooling as reasons why many women were continuing to work from home, while men returned to the office.
"There is the potential for two tracks. There's the people who are on the virtual track and people who are on a 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," she said.
Women were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
"The pandemic was very much a 'she-cession'," Mann added.
Speaking at a virtual event on 9 November, BoE governor Andrew Bailey also said that he was "concerned" about gender diversity figures at the Bank, saying that they still had a lot of work to do.
Just 32% of senior management at the BoE are women, compared to 46% below senior management level, according to the its 2021 annual report.
“We don’t have enough role models frankly, and I think it is important to have role models,” Bailey said.
Women were more likely than men to say working from home allowed them more time to work, with fewer distractions. But men said working from home helped them come up with new ideas, while women found it a greater barrier, analysis from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed.
In August, chancellor Rishi Sunak said young people would help their careers by working in the office and that they risked missing out on building skills and work relationships if they worked from home.
Sunak worked in finance, including at banking giant Goldman Sachs (GS). He said he still maintained relationships with his early mentors.
"I doubt I would have had those strong relationships if I was doing my summer internship or my first bit of my career over Teams and Zoom.
"That's why I think for young people in particular, being able to physically be in an office is valuable."
Between 20 and 31 October 2021, over two-thirds (70%) of working adults in Britain reported travelling to work, according to the ONS.
In professional services, 34% of staff are back in the office, 24% are fully working from home, and 35% are doing a mix of both. The information and communication industry reported the highest proportion of employees using a hybrid model of working, at 35%.