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How Remote Work Impacts Women at Different Stages of Their Careers

How Remote Work Impacts Women at Different Stages of Their Careers

Remote work woman using Surface laptop


Remote work has been hailed for its potential to support women in balancing professional and family responsibilities. However, recent research by Natalia Emanuel, Emma Harrington, and Amanda Pallais reveals that its impact on women’s professional development varies depending on their career stage. This study, focusing on female software engineers at a Fortune 500 company, provides insights into how working from home (WFH) influences mentorship, feedback, and overall career growth.

The Research Context

The study examined 1,055 software engineers who either worked in the same building as their teammates or were spread across different buildings. Before the pandemic, those working in the same building had frequent in-person interactions, while those in separate buildings operated more like remote teams. The pandemic’s shift to universal remote work offered a unique opportunity to compare these dynamics.

Mentorship Suffers with Remote Work

Proximity to teammates significantly enhanced mentorship, particularly for female engineers. When working in the same building, female engineers received 40% more peer review comments on their code compared to those on distributed teams. This increase in feedback was due to more follow-up questions and diverse perspectives from colleagues, both male and female.

Conversely, male engineers experienced a smaller, 18% increase in feedback when working in person. This gender disparity highlights that female engineers benefit more from proximity, especially in early career stages where mentorship is crucial.

Junior vs. Senior Engineers

Junior female engineers received about 51% more feedback when co-located with their teammates, indicating a higher sensitivity to proximity. In contrast, senior engineers received similar amounts of feedback regardless of their work arrangement.

Invisible Work and Senior Female Engineers

Proximity also increased the invisible work burden on senior female engineers, who gave 28% more comments when working in person. This mentorship effort reduced their own productivity, with senior women producing less than half the number of programs per month compared to their remote counterparts. Senior male engineers experienced a less pronounced productivity hit, reflecting a gendered imbalance in mentorship responsibilities.

Implications Beyond Engineering

The findings suggest that these dynamics might be even more pronounced in other settings where digital feedback is not as ingrained. In more collaborative environments, the costs of reduced feedback and increased mentorship burdens could be greater.

Balancing Work and Family

Only 16% of the engineers in the study were parents, suggesting that the observed trends might be different for parents balancing work and childcare. Effective support for parents working remotely could mitigate some of these challenges.

See Also


The research indicates that remote work’s benefits and costs are career-stage dependent. For junior women, remote work can hinder professional development due to reduced mentorship opportunities. For senior women, remote work can enhance productivity by lessening the invisible work of mentoring.

To address these issues, companies should implement management practices that recognize and reward high-quality mentorship. This approach would ensure junior women receive robust training remotely and that senior women are compensated for their mentorship contributions.

Final Thoughts

This study underscores the complexity of remote work’s impact on women’s careers. By understanding these nuances and adjusting management practices, companies can better support women’s professional development at all career stages.

For further reading on this topic, explore the full research paper and related articles from Harvard Business Review.

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