Flex work gender bias – against women

Two employees ask for the same flexibility, so why does only the man’s request approved?

Flex work gender bias – against women

It’s counterintuitive, but a new study finds that men are more likely to be approval for flexible hours than women.

Despite the emphasis recently on supporting mothers in the workplace, and studies which find flexibility is a higher priority for women than men, it seems male employees’ requests for a flexible schedule is more likely to be approved.

According to the Yale, Texas and Harvard study, published this month in the Journal of Social Issues, bosses favour men over women when employees request flextime.

In the first study Yale researcher Victoria L. Brescoll and her colleagues found managers were most likely to grant flextime to “high-status men” seeking flexible schedules in order to advance their careers. In contrast, flexible scheduling requests from women were unlikely to be granted irrespective of their job status or reason.

A second study finds that employees were unaware of these managerial biases: women assigned high-status jobs and requests for career advancement reasons were the most likely to think their requests would be granted, while men in the same scenarios were least likely to believe this.

Male hourly workers were also likely to receive approval if they needed flexibility for family care, but both professional and hourly working women were unlikely to be granted a flexible schedule regardless of the reason for the request. Women were unable to use either their professional status within the organization or their reason for requesting flexibility to boost the probability that the manager would say yes.

In the article Ask and Ye Shall Receive? The Dynamics of Employer-Provided Flexible Work Options and the Need for Public Policy, published in The Journal of Social Issues, researchers blamed a lack of trust between managers and women who wanted more flexibility, with many managers suspecting that even when women requested flex time to advance their careers, they were either lying, or wasting their time because of future family obligations.

“The association between women and motherhood is so strong that even women who have proven themselves by achieving a high-status occupation and asking for further career training cannot overcome this actuarial mistrust of women workers,” the researchers said.

The researchers added that managers respect high-status men more than high-status women, and said there was a psychological desire to maintain the status quo by reinforcing  the status and power held by men in the workplace.

For women who expect to be able to access flexible hours and are rejected, their options are limited and they are likely to feel demoralized and unsupported in the workplace. In turn this would contribute to many women choosing to leave the workforce or take on part time work if they do choose to have a family.

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