More proof that the work-life balance discussion is not gender neutral. A study reveals men are more likely than women to be granted flexible work schedules. According to “Ask and Ye Shall Receive? The Dynamics of Employer-Provided Flexible Work Options and the Need for Public Policy,” a study published in the Journal of Social Issues, managers favor requests from high-status men who ask for flexibility to pursue career development, over women of any workplace status, for any reason.
In the recent slew of articles about women and work, many have been calling for men to be brought into the work life balance discussion. After all, men are seeking “roles that are much more integral to the lives of their families and require greater presence and engagement” according to research from the Boston College Center for Work and Family. And women are seeking more support at home so that they can better pursue their careers. We absolutely need to bring men into the conversation, but as I’ve written before, “The fact that men are seeking balance, however, doesn’t mean the work-life discussion can be gender neutral.” The researchers who studied men’s attitudes about work and family at Boston College noted, “While organizational policies are designed to be gender neutral, organizational cultures are not.” And this latest body of research certainly seems to support that.
Not only were men and women granted flexibility differently, their expectations were different as well. And, the study showed employees were unaware of managerial biases. Women with high-status positions who requested flex for career advancement were the most likely to expect their requests would be granted. Men with similar status positions were least likely to believe they would receive flex for career advancement purposes.
“Women may be underestimating the negative consequences of asking and overestimating their true probability of success,” said Victoria Brescoll, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, who conducted the research. “All women workers, regardless of their status or the reason for their request, face a gendered wall of resistance to their requests for flextime, while men face status-specific resistance.”
She also noted that it’s the workers most in need of flexibility – women with lower status positions with childcare concerns- who are least likely to be granted accommodations.
The mommy penalty is real. Brescoll hints that a mistrust of women workers is behind this gender bias. “There’s an actuarial mistrust of women workers that even women who have proven themselves by achieving high-status jobs and asking for more career training can’t overcome,” she notes in a Yale Insight brief.
Businesses should take note of this gender bias and identify ways to avoid it. Women represent 40 percent of all breadwinners and businesses need their talents to thrive. Sixty-five percent of married mothers with children are working in some capacity. These women are motivated to contribute and earn. It’s time to shed old stereotypes and embrace the realities of today’s workforce.