Imagine an employee were to ask their boss for a flexible work arrangement. Would you think the employee were a man or a woman? If you’re like most people, you’d assume that the employee who needs flex the most is female. As it turns out, more working men, and in particular, working fathers, are also interested in having a flexible schedule. But according to a new report from the Center for American Progress, which covers work/life topics such as paid family leave and pay inequality as they relate to men, many working dads are hesitant to take advantage of their companies’ work flexibility programs.
In “Men, Fathers, and Work-Family Balance,” CAP reports that many managers are willing to grant a flexible work arrangement (FWA) to their male employees who are looking to advance in their careers. Under these circumstances, a flex schedule is granted without any perceived penalty, and the reason is this: flexibility, sans fatherhood, is approved of in the corporate world. On the other hand, CAP adds that research shows that a working dad who wants to take an extended paternity leave, or work a compressed workweek so he can spend time with his family, is frowned upon.
The term for this imbalance is “flexibility stigma,” and it has a far-reaching effect. Research published in the Journal of Social Issues found that many men will not ask for work flexibility because they are worried about the negative results from such a request.
Apparently, this stigma is deeply steeped in gender roles. To this day, men are still considered to be the breadwinners—not the ones baking the bread. Taking on traditional female roles—such as caring for children and running a household—is considered to be doing “women’s work” and can manifest itself in workplace penalties.
Research shows that men who request a flexible schedule for reasons other than to advance their career (such as to help raise their families) can receive fewer promotions, a lower wage, and even negative performance reviews. As a result, working fathers who request work flexibility often do not reveal that their decision to ask for flex is to help out at home, which reinforces gender norms. Nonetheless, work-life balance is not simply a female issue, but an issue for working parents everywhere.
There is a silver lining, though. Vermont and San Francisco now have right-to-request laws, which allow an employee (male or female) to request a flexible schedule without facing repercussions in the workplace. However, a request does not automatically equal being granted workplace flexibility. Further legislation, such as the proposed Schedules That Work Act, could potentially help all working parents achieve both flexibility and stability at work.
It’s important for companies and legislators to recognize—and accept—that working fathers need flex just as much as working mothers. Policies need to be put into place that reflect the changing landscape of the workplace to ensure that all requests for work flexibility are given the fair consideration that they deserve.
To learn more about these issues, watch CAP’s recent event on this topic featuring:
Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary
Daniella Gibbs Léger, Senior Vice President, Communications and Strategy, Center for American Progress
Kathryn Edin, Distinguished Bloomberg Professor of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University; author, Doing the Best I Can: Fathering in the Inner City
Loren Harris, Director of Family Economic Security, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Erin Rehel, Consultant, Advisory Board Company
Sarah Jane Glynn, Director of Women’s Economic Security, Center for American Progress
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