By David Milliken
LONDON (Reuters) -Women who work mostly from home risk seeing their careers suffer now that significant numbers of workers are returning to the office after the COVID-19 pandemic, Bank of England policymaker Catherine Mann said on Thursday.
Mann, a member of the BoE's Monetary Policy Committee, said online communication was unable to replicate the spontaneous office conversations which were important for recognition and advancement in many workplaces.
"Virtual platforms are way better than they than they were even five years ago. But the extemporaneous, spontaneity - those are hard to replicate in a virtual setting," she told an event for women in finance hosted by the newspaper Financial News.
Difficulty accessing childcare and COVID-related disruption to schooling meant many women were continuing to work from home, while men returned to the office, Mann said.
"There is the potential for two tracks. There's the people who are on the virtual track and people who are on a physical track. And I do worry that we will see those two tracks develop, and we will pretty much know who's going to be on which track, unfortunately," she said.
Mann was an economics professor and chief economist at Citi and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), before joining the BoE in September.
British finance minister Rishi Sunak warned younger workers in August that they risked missing out on building skills and work relationships if they worked from home.
British businesses last month said 60% of their staff were fully back at their normal place of work, but proportions vary widely by sector. In professional services, 34% of staff are in the office, 24% are fully working from home, and 35% are doing a mix, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Separate ONS data shows a slightly higher percentage of male workers than females worked from home for at least some of the time in late October, although the gap was within the survey's margin of error.
Previous ONS analysis showed women were more likely than men to say working from home allowed them more time to work, with fewer distractions. But men said working from home helped them come up with new ideas, while women found it a hindrance.
(Reporting by David MillikenEditing by William Schomberg)