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Self-Advocating for Workplace Flexibility: Trends and Tips for Women and Minority Employees During the 2023 Return to Office Mandates

Self-Advocating for Workplace Flexibility: Trends and Tips for Women and Minority Employees During the 2023 Return to Office Mandates

Image Description: A woman with tan skin and black hair brushed back smiles broadly as she looks at the screen of the open laptop she is holding. She sits cross-legged in a plush chair near a large open window that appears to look out onto a view from a high-rise building.

By Marion Davis

As summer begins for 2023, the corporate push for a return to the office commences. 

Prominent in the news are major tech companies, such as Meta, Twitter, Apple, and Google, mandating a return to brick-and-mortar office buildings. 

Meta is implementing a requirement of three days in the office in a hybrid arrangement. Outlining rules for Twitter employees in a company-wide email in 2022, Elon Musk demonstrated much more inflexibility with a declaration that no remote work will be allowed and a failure to appear on-site for a minimum of 40 hours per week will be considered as a resignation. 

However, these tech titans are not the only organizations creating and enforcing return to office mandates. Current reports indicate that 72 percent of companies in the US are requiring workers to return from Zoom rooms to brick buildings–and nearly half of these same companies are realizing that many diverse employees especially would rather quit than return to an inflexible work environment. 

A review of the situation in full will likely leave no doubt in the reader’s mind that the issue was never truly about remote versus in-person but about a larger theme of flexibility and inflexibility that affects minority employees disproportionately. 

Return to Office Mandates: A Review of the Situation

Strong arguments are being levied against the return to office mandates such as the disabled community’s increased employment numbers by August 2021 at approximately 19 percent and then approximately 21 percent by 2022, a number that surpasses pre-pandemic levels and is largely attributed to the increase in remote work options. 

A widely-publicized 2021 Future Forum Pulse survey reported the work preferences of over 10,000 desk workers globally by race, age, gender, and role within companies. This survey found that executives who work remotely are about three times more likely than employees who work remotely to want to return to the office full-time. In contrast, 76 percent of employees do not want to return to work full-time in an office setting. Instead, the majority of employees prefer flexibility in regard to location and schedule.

Within part of this study, Future Forum found that–of those who want to work entirely at the office–white men were the most likely at 30.4 percent and Black men the least likely at 15.9 percent. White women and Black women scored similarly when asked this same question at 22.7 percent and 22.5 percent respectively.

Researchers on business management and the social impact of events like a pandemic noted a two-fold influence here. Office culture traditionally has met the needs of white men, and events like the pandemic disproportionately affected people of color and other minorities. This disproportionate effect can make it more difficult for minorities to fit into an office culture norm established by the majority, a concept termed “identity labor” in research on ethnoracial minorities.

Practical Tips for Employees

In a world changed by the pandemic, many of these employees who do want to return to the office full-time still want to see greater flexibility within the workplace, particularly in regard to scheduling with 93 percent of employees wanting flexibility regarding when they work.

As the research shows, a significant number of employees do want to return to work in a brick-and-mortar office setting albeit with greater flexibility than pre-pandemic times. More than half of employees are open to or even expect a hybrid work arrangement for 2023 onwards. 

There is currently a high level of employee attrition in response to strict return to office mandates, especially within traditionally underrepresented groups.

Considering the current job market, women and minority employees could potentially leverage the situation to create a work arrangement that better suits their needs, advocating for greater flexibility in the form of a hybrid work schedule or a flexible in-person schedule.  

Self-Advocating for a Hybrid Work Schedule

While return to office (RTO) mandates increase in 2023, experts recommend a hybrid option as an alternative to make the most of both worlds. 

Creating flexibility especially promotes gender parity in the workforce. In one survey, 72 percent of women reported that they would look for a new job immediately if their employer took away hybrid work as an option.

To self-advocate for a hybrid work schedule, employees can implement various approaches.


  1. Leverage a key moment. The general advice is to wait until a performance review or some other type of assessment that demonstrates success on the job and use this achievement to request a more flexible work arrangement, presenting the argument of how a flexible work arrangement would bring about even more opportunity for success.

  2. Explain the advantages. Building off of the previous point, employees can emphasize the advantages of a hybrid work setup. For instance, employees could explain how certain aspects of working full-time in the office detract from their ability to use their time more efficiently and how a hybrid work environment is proven to increase efficiency, improve productivity, and improve work-life balance so the employees have more creative energy to dedicate to their work. 

  3. Offer accountability measures. Many employers have the pain point of wanting to monitor employees either in the office or remotely. The approaches that companies took during the pandemic created multiple controversial news stories of heavy-handed surveillance of all employee activities at home. In fact, research on employee monitoring showed that employees are more likely to break the rules when being monitored as these employees felt that the company was taking away their personal agency and creating a culture of mistrust. Instead, when making an argument for working remotely, employees can take the initiative to recommend their own preferred time trackers. Clockify.Me is a time tracking tool without screen monitoring that allows users to easily track time by clients, projects, and tasks and then review the amount of time spent on tasks in a chart. This allows the users the ability to report back easily how their time was spent while also being able to self-evaluate how their time is spent.  

  4. Suggest an initial trial period. Many employers may be hesitant about the idea of employees working indefinitely in a hybrid work arrangement. When employees suggest an initial trial period, employers may be more accepting. This trial period then gives employees the ability to track their time spent on projects as well as schedule another performance review to have documented proof that demonstrates how a hybrid work environment specifically benefits both the employees and their ability to contribute to the company. 

Self-Advocating for a Flex Schedule

Flex schedules have long been hailed as crucial to involving women more in the workforce. Rigid schedules and punishment for a lack of adherence to these schedules create penalties for situations where parents are late to work due to childcare. Mothers are disproportionately the parents to take on more childcare responsibilities and have long struggled to balance caregiving duties with access to career opportunities due to a lack of empathy and flexibility by employers. 

To self-advocate for a flex schedule, employees can implement various approaches.


  1. Be specific in addressing needs. Instead of simply asking for general flexibility in a 9-to-5 schedule, employees can be specific about their needs in order to contribute creatively to the company’s success. If employees are aware that their childcare duties often result in them being 30 minutes late to work, they can instead ask that their schedule be reworked to expectations of a 10 am arrival start time. This way, these employees will not feel stressed by the constant idea of being late to work and have an additional buffer of time.

  2. Explain how this flex schedule benefits the company. Part of establishing boundaries in a work environment involves selling the other parties on the advantages they will gain through this arrangement. For example, an employee asking for a flex schedule with an arrival time of 10 am instead of 9 am can sell their place of employment on the idea of greater creative flow and higher productivity when she is not stressed. As a point of caution here, researchers are finding consistently that many women tend to work even more hours with a push to compensate when given a flexible schedule. Setting boundaries is important, and working more hours to make up for an arrival time that is only one hour later is a slippery slope. Instead, employees would benefit from emphasizing factors such as the fact that the rush and stress of arriving at work by 9 am limits their productivity already between 9 am and 10 am and that they believe they could be equally productive with a 10-to-5 work schedule.

  3. Ask for a trial period. Similarly to self-advocating for a hybrid work schedule, employees can ask for a trial period as a starting point with their employers. This gives both the employees and the employers a way to test the waters and to assess the suitability of this approach for both parties. 

  4. Set up performance reviews and wellness check-ins. Employees can schedule a follow-up performance review after the trial period. When making arguments such as that an arrival time of 10 am would result in much lower stress levels and allow them to still complete work tasks by 5 pm, employees can demonstrate their continued efficiency in regular performance reviews. Additionally, employees would do well to add wellness check-ins during these periods. Emotional well-being for employees is crucial within the workplace, and employees can explain how flexible options such as a flex schedule have impacted their mental health in addition to quantitative measurements of their performance at work. After all, happy employees are more productive employees.     

Best Practices for Managers During the Transition

Considering the disconnect between executives’ and employees’ preferences, upper-level managers would do well to consider employee preferences over their own to support diverse workers in an approach to work that meets individual needs. 

Considering that white men are the most eager to return to a full-time work schedule in a brick-and-mortar office, executives enacting mandated returns to the office was predicted back in 2021 to result in a decrease of diversity within the office as women and minorities who flourish in a hybrid or remote work environment seek out employment elsewhere. 

As of June 2023, this prediction is proving true with nearly half of all companies enacting a return to office (RTO) mandate experiencing a much higher level of employee attrition than executives expected with historically underrepresented groups being 22 percent more likely to leave when flexibility is no longer an option.

This lack of retention is leaving companies in the lurch as they struggle with talent recruitment, especially in a world where employee expectations for flexibility mean that other companies are offering flexibility as an incentive to attract and retain employees.

Quite simply, strict, inflexible work arrangements will continue to cause employee attrition, particularly of underrepresented groups, and prevent employee acquisition as employees–especially women and minority employees–choose a position at a more flexible company instead.

Final Thoughts

Corporate flexibility is key during the current push for a return to work in person. Many companies are incurring significant labor shortages and related costs due to high employee attrition rates in response to strict return to office mandates. These mandates especially have a disproportionate effect on women and minorities who make up the bulk of employees quitting and seeking out more flexible work arrangements. Companies that enforce strict regulations on how and when employees work end up creating a more homogenous workforce of non-disabled white men for whom the traditional office was originally designed. For corporations that would like to have access to and retain members of a larger talent pool, these companies need to recognize the importance of being willing to be flexible. Likewise, in this current climate–with flexibility becoming more normalized–employees can advocate for their specific work arrangement needs.      

Marion Davis is a contributing writer at She is a disabled DEIA consultant and writes on the value of diversity and inclusion across multiple industries, specifically as relates to disability and intersectionality.