Why “Back To The Office” Hurts Women Far More Than Men

Forcing women to come back to the office seriously impacts a woman's quality of life and employers' ability to find the workers they need.

Woman offended by how ridiculous it is to return to office Birmingham Museums Trust | Unsplash 

When WeWork filed for bankruptcy, and I felt quite a bit of schadenfreude. Why? In 2021, WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani was one of the first to publicly vilify remote workers.

In the Wall Street Journal, he described people who want to work from home as the least engaged employees. And he’s been on my bad list ever since.

The decline of the office-sharing wunderkind — once valued at $47 billion — proves my pet conspiracy theory: Companies are pushing people back into their cubicles to stop office real estate value decline.


When it comes to investors’ money, the negative impact on people’s lives is a price they’re willing to pay.

But people know returning to the office will cost them money, time, and sanity.

For women, the cost of returning is so high that some prefer to quit their jobs instead.

Why “Back to the Office” Hurts Women More Than Men


Photo: wayhomestudio/Freepik

Of course, WeWork didn’t implode just because people don’t want to come back to the office.

There was also financial mismanagement, delusions of grandeur, and the usual nonsense that comes from giving people too much money and unwarranted praise.

But its downfall is symptomatic of the fact that no matter how hard some people try to turn back time, we can’t go back to the pre-pandemic status quo.

We can’t afford to.

Going back to the office is expensive. Not just in terms of money. But also in terms of time and quality of life.

Because it’s not just the hours in the office, is it?

It’s the money wasted on business attire and makeup. The time spent getting ready, commuting, meal prepping, juggling housework, and organizing child care. Time wasted on small talk or on people interrupting your focus to tell you the latest gossip.


And for what?

To sit in the office and join remote calls that we could have done from home in comfortable trousers? Or pizza lunches?

Now that we’ve seen the other side, we’re no longer willing to sacrifice the flexibility and control over our lives we gained.



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Not surprisingly, being responsible for most of the daily organizational tight-rope act is keeping more women at home than men.

We see a growing gender commuting gap.

The share of men who said they work from home, at least partly, during an average day dropped from 35% in 2021 to 28% in 2022. For women, this figure dropped to 41% very slightly from 41.5% in 2021.

As a result, women’s careers suffer as managers fall for proximity bias. They miss out on important projects and promotions. Their contributions to the company are less visible than those of their male colleagues, who find it easier to return to the office.

As companies go back on their promise of flexible remote and hybrid work options, women are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either they return to the office but reduce their working hours to cope, or they stay at home.


Whichever they choose, they’ll watch their career prospects die a slow death.

Women still do most of the caregiving and unpaid labor.

For many, remote working was a heaven-sent. After the initial chaos of the abrupt transition, women found they could balance their personal and professional commitments more easily working from home.

Many women even started to work more hours and make more money. According to Bloomberg, half a million women in the UK transitioned from part-time to full-time work during the pandemic.

Studies show that stress is a major factor in why people quit their jobs. Trying to raise children and run a household with little support, all while commuting to the office, is indescribably stressful.


Remote work makes the burden, if not light, at least bearable.

Before the pandemic, women experienced much higher rates of burnout than men. On average, 17% of people reported feeling burned out often or very often, but women’s numbers were much higher. 23% of white women and more than 30% of women of color said they felt burned out often or very often. Increasing working hours was unthinkable.

Anna Lane CEO of Wisdom Council explains: The truth? For many women, increasing work hours isn’t just a challenge; it feels insurmountable. They grapple with limited flexibility, shouldering greater domestic responsibilities, and battling a crumbling childcare system.

Remote work was a way to combine work and family life without having a nervous breakdown. So, it comes as no surprise that some women don’t want to go back.




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Remote work made women more ambitious.

It allowed them to dream bigger. Suddenly, it no longer seemed unattainable to have both a real career and a fulfilling private life.

According to McKinsey, flexibility is allowing women to pursue their ambitions: overall, one in five women say flexibility has helped them stay in their job or avoid reducing their hours. A large number of women who work hybrid or remotely point to feeling less fatigued and burned out as a primary benefit. And a majority of women report having more focused time to get their work done when they work remotely


Going back to the office for no good reason takes all that freedom away again. 25% of women say they’d have to ask to reduce their working hours if they could no longer rely on flexibility.

We can talk about how many days a week people have to spend in the office for collaboration and/or bonding with their colleagues at the water cooler.

Maybe it’s one or two days a week, but it’s undeniable that full-time in-office mandates don’t make sense.

Throughout the pandemic, people were praised for how productive they were working from home. Employers talked about how a new era of work had dawned. They crowed that we will never go back.

Until they did a 180 and suddenly insisted that remote workers are lazy and unproductive.


I have a nagging feeling that “leaders” realize that many of them are superfluous if people work well without being watched. Just like the huge neon-lit office spaces and their big corner offices.

Women are the victims of this productivity theater. They have built their lives in the expectation that this new way of working will exist in the foreseeable future.

According to the McKinsey study “Women in the Workplace 2023”, 90% of women want to continue working either remotely or at least hybrid. Flexibility is one of the key benefits they are looking for.


RELATED: Woman's Company Posted Her Job On LinkedIn For Up To $90K More Than Her Salary— So She Applied

European companies, especially but not only in the tech space, are suffering from a talent crisis.

Everyone I talk to has job openings they can’t fill. Some 10, some 100.

At the same time, I hear so many stories from women who were denied the opportunity to work remotely and had to give up their jobs because the commute was too far or because they couldn’t meet their childcare responsibilities without flexibility.

Some were in the very same companies that are now desperate for workers. It’s mind-boggling.

Our politicians talk about creating incentives for people to work beyond retirement age. That’s how dire the situation is.


But at the same time, companies are restricting women’s ability to work full-time by removing remote and hybrid work options and ignoring their very real concern about inflexible work hours.

If you want more people to work, it’s time to listen to women’s needs. Close some of the half-empty office spaces and use the money to create new ways of collaboration and connection.

Free fruit and coffee just don’t cut it anymore.

RELATED: Why Including Women In The Boardroom Is So Vital Right Now

Ronke Babajide is a seasoned tech professional with over 25 years in the industry, currently leading a team of System Engineers at Fortinet Austria. She is a passionate advocate for diversity in tech and mentors women in the space. She writes about tech, feminism, and women in the workplace both on Medium and Substack.