Video off: Why not all working women need to be seen to be heard


With the increase in Zoom meetings and hybrid meetings, is it bad for business to have your video off? Or does mandating a 'camera on' policy discriminate those who would rather be off-screen?


Recent research from UGM Consulting suggested many professionals believe ‘video off’ is having a negative impact on their rapidly changing hybrid workplaces. 

We asked WOB members on WOBShare for their views on Zoom video etiquette and the challenges they have faced with the increase in virtual and hybrid meetings, and the responses - as always - were thought-provoking and varied.

Multi-tasking? Why not

Finance Manager Kristy Choat said giving people the option to have their video on or off is about being inclusive and accepting of people’s differences. 

“We talk about diversity and inclusion and yet something simple like giving an employee a choice about putting a video camera on is beyond some managers /organisations.  

“I found out recently that many of our remote staff were accessing Teams via the browser and did not have access to blur/background effects functionality available in the desktop version (which has only just been released by Microsoft for the web version of Teams). This highlights that - like internet connectivity -individual perspectives will be based on the tools available, and everyone may not have the same tools and therefore the same experience. “

While one person quoted in the UGM report says “having video off gives colleagues the impression that you are uninterested, multi-tasking or perhaps not even present” Kristy said there’s nothing wrong with doing two things at once, and that in some cases it is necessary.

“While we know we can't multi-focus, we can multi-task. I know colleagues who hang clothes on the line, do the dusting or eat lunch during meetings.  All of these are women who put many more than their paid hours into work. I've done many conference calls while breastfeeding and while walking home from school drop-off. It astounds me that organisations would make it more difficult for women to do these things now in a "hybrid" world by insisting we be tied to our desk so we can be ‘seen’.


Turning point for equality

Head of IT Australia for State Street Australia,, Lynne Montgomery, agreed with Christy. 

“As we move forward from Covid, we need to ensure that females are not disadvantaged. Covid could be a great turning point for equality if we can level the playing field for all of those diverse groups which may have been disadvantaged in the past. 

“It will be a very interesting time to work through how we can provide equal opportunities for those in the room and those who are not.”

Zoom fatigue

According to WHS expert and educator, Samantha McGolrick, ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a real biopsychosocial problem.

“I appreciate the research in the article, particularly the risk of multitasking when video is off, but personally find I can't concentrate well when my video is on, or when I'm looking at what others are doing.”

She said it is important to appreciate that we are all different, with different needs at different times. “More often than not, one rule does not suit everyone at the same time. I don't think it's necessarily about what's happening in the background. Having my camera on or off is about where I'm at that day, what I need, and sometimes that's not what everyone else needs, and I hope that people can support each other in that.”

Presence vs participation

This sentiment was echoed by experienced NED and Chair, Jennifer Bennett who I said we need to be careful ‚Äčof equating visual "presence" with effective participation and engagement.  

“My Board members have been participating in all forms, by voice, or video and doing so with passion and professionalism. As Chair, I need our Board members to share their brains, experience, heart and curiosity - their electronic faces are optional.”

Courtesy first

Queensland-based life and business coach and Director of MindShifts competitive intelligence consultancy, Babette Bensoussan, agreed with the UGM research, and said many professionals should now be used to working from home and the issues that may arise from that.

“When one person has their video off, I personally think it seems to give a message of entitlement of that person, let alone a lack of courtesy or maybe respect to the others on the call,” she said.

“We have all learnt to accept the incidences of dogs barking, cats jumping in front of the camera, kids yelling, and so on. 

“Now if someone has their video turned off, I do the same and offer it to the other callers should they wish.  We now have a conference call.  Remember those!”

Don’t shame

IT specialist and Change Manager and Delivery Lead at YMCA Victoria, Michelle Bentley, agreed it is beneficial when people do turn their cameras on but added we should be mindful of their circumstances if they opt to switch it off.

She recalled a time she was working as a waitress in Lakes Entrance.  “One day a gentleman wore a cap the entire time he was in the restaurant. As he left  the owner told me of a time she made a fuss about someone wearing a hat at the table, only to discover the person had lost all their hair after cancer treatment.  She had embarrassed them and drawn attention to something they were trying to escape from with a lovely lunch out with friends. She said: ‘Michelle,  never make someone explain themselves for something so trivial like wearing a hat at the table.’ 

“Not everyone is proud of their home or has safety in their home.  Not everyone is comfortable with who they are.  Don't shame them for it.”

Her tip? “When the meeting commences, you can mention the value of everyone turning on their camera. If you do decide to have your camera on, make sure it is focused correctly and you are not just a talking head on the screen; push your chair back a bit, show people who you are.

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