Free agents or digital slaves?

Dr Meraiah Foley from the Sydney Business School explores the connectivity paradox and gender equality in the legal profession.

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The expansion of digital connectivity, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, has created a paradox for workers, offering greater freedom about where and when work can be conducted but also increasing expectations about workers’ availability and accessibility. This ‘connectivity paradox’ has negative implications for gender equality in many professions where long working hours and presenteeism have limited the advancement of women. Using in-depth interviews and focus groups, this study examines how legal professionals in Australia navigate this paradox. We find that women and men recognize the emancipatory potential of digital connectivity, but experience its downside risks acutely. In the absence of organisational and institutional policies and regulations, many professionals enact highly individualised strategies to manage expectations about their availability and accessibility outside of work. These findings highlight the need for greater organisational and regulatory interventions to ensure that the emancipatory potential of digital connectivity is realized, without unintended consequences. Our findings are significant in light of growing concerns about the risk of digital connectivity to workplace gender equality, and emergent debates about the need to codify a ‘right to disconnect’. 


Dr Meraiah Foley is a Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School and a member of the Gender Equality in Working Life Research Initiative. Her research focuses on gender equality at work, the gendered impacts of workplace technological change, and women's experiences working in male-dominated occupations and industries. Dr. Foley is a Chief Investigator on two Australian Research Council (ARC) projects, one examining gender and the future of work in the retail sector and the legal profession, and another investigating young people’s attitudes toward the future of work in Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan. She is also the Principal Investigator on a University of Sydney Business School project aimed at increasing women's participation in cybersecurity careers. 

The seminar will also be live-streamed, where online participants can listen to the presentation and take part in the Q&A session by typing their questions in the Zoom chat box. The Zoom link will be sent to you in the registration confirmation.

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