​Women Are Less Likely to Have Flexible Work Schedules Approved


A new study has found that men who request a more flexible work schedule are more likely to be approved than women who request the same thing. Oh joy.

Christin Munch, an assistant professor of sociology at Furman University, had 646 participants look at transcripts of conversations between a purported HR representative and an employee. Some conversations requested a “flexible work arrangement” in the form of either non-traditional work hours (coming in early/leaving early) or working form home a couple days a week. Other conversations made no mention of a flexible work arrangement. Other variables included the gender of the employee and the reason for the request (childcare).

The participants were then asked to evaluate the employees on various measures:

Among those who read the scenario in which a man requested to work from home for childcare related reasons, 69.7 percent said they would be “likely” or “very likely” to approve the request, compared to 56.7 percent of those who read the scenario in which a woman made the request. Almost a quarter—24.3 percent—found the man to be “extremely likeable,” compared to only 3 percent who found the woman to be “extremely likeable.” And, only 2.7 percent found the man “not at all” or “not very” committed, yet 15.5 percent found the woman “not at all” or “not very” committed.

So what’s going on here? It seems pretty clear that the tired old sexist ideas of women in the work place are still pervasive and still leave women at a disadvantage.

“These results demonstrate how cultural notions of parenting influence perceptions of people who request flexible work,” Munsch said. “Today, we think of women’s responsibilities as including paid labor and domestic obligations, but we still regard breadwinning as men’s primary responsibility and we feel grateful if men contribute in the realm of childcare or to other household tasks.”

Munsch also commented on the effect of the flexible time disparity on increasingly egalitarian marriages. Interestingly enough, she did find that when both men and women explained that their flexible schedule requests were due to childcare, they were both more likely to be seen as “respectable, likable, committed, and worthy of a promotion.” But when the requests were made for non childcare reasons, like reducing commute time and carbon footprint, they were much less likely to get approved. Ugh, babies/children just ruin it for everyone!

Munsch warns that despite the progress made in the workplace in terms of flexibility, it’s important that managers check their own biases when discussing schedules with their employees.

She apparently was set to present her research at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, so maybe she bumped into that Ashley Madison Chief Science Officer while she’s there!

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