As published in The Globe and Mail

When I was raising my two boys and trying to advance my career in tech, I often faced seemingly impossible choices. Trying to juggle drop-offs, school events, sports and other family activities with travel, meetings and work at the office – it seemed like I could never do enough.

That level of pressure can take a heavy toll. I have seen women pass up projects and promotions and even leave promising careers because of the balancing act required.

Today, though, hybrid workplaces are ubiquitous as a byproduct of the pandemic. More professional women have an opportunity to re-enter the workplace on their terms, while improving the balance between their work and home lives.

As we continue to edge toward a new normal, some particularly loud voices in the tech industry have begun to call for a return to the office full-time. But before we rush back, we need to consider what that requirement means for inclusion efforts.

The tech industry is a lot more welcoming than it was when I started more than 20 years ago. Yet industrywide, women still earn only 84 per cent of what men do, and they and racialized groups are still underrepresented in key positions. The hybrid work that the pandemic has brought about has created an opportunity to make tech a more inviting field for underrepresented workers.

In a recent survey conducted by McKinsey, employees with disabilities were 11 per cent more likely to state a preference for hybrid work models than employees without disabilities. Non-binary and LGBTQ employees also disproportionately preferred hybrid-work models. Remote-work options also enable organizations to expand their hiring pool to those who may not live in hubs such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver.

Inclusive hybrid workplaces cannot be sustained without deliberate planning. Making remote and hybrid work inclusive and equitable requires new leadership strategies and a new culture.

For example, it can be easier to lose the nuances of in-person conversation when communication happens online. With a hybrid team, it is important to seek out opinions pro-actively, to make sure everybody stays engaged, and to avoid missing unspoken signals.

Instead of forcing employees back into the office for a required number of hours, have set aside one or two anchor days a week for teams to meet in person, collaborate and problem-solve. These days aren’t for being heads-down in a cubicle on individual tasks, and are flexible to accommodate varying arrival and departure times.

Supporting employees in this new environment also requires new technology. Companies need hybrid-work platforms that make it easier to plan, manage and support a happier dispersed work force.

When we force employees to come back into the office, it can have an isolating effect on some. For working parents, disabled employees and many historically underrepresented groups that we are trying to attract and retain, working from home has been a powerful benefit.

For an industry that is still struggling to achieve equity and inclusion, hybrid-work models can support greater diversity. Becoming a more inclusive industry will ultimately make it easier to attract and retain top talent.

And for me, as I look back at my experience, I feel heartened that the next generation of women may face less pressure to choose between family and career.