Given the choice between working fathers and working mothers, who would you say benefits more from flexible work?
If you chose working mothers, you’re not alone. In fact, the vast majority of people would say that work flexibility is good for moms versus dads.
Thing is, you’d be wrong.
Christin Munsch, a sociology professor at Furman University, did a survey of almost 700 people regarding work flexibility and the underlying stigmas attached to it. Munsch found that men who requested flex twice a week were deemed to be more committed to their work, more promotable, and more likeable than their female colleagues who also asked for work flexibility.
In fact, nearly 70 percent of the survey’s participants claimed that they would “likely” or “very likely” grant a working father’s request to telecommute twice a week for child care reasons. In sharp comparison, a working mother’s flex request would be granted by only 57 percent of the survey takers.
All things being equal, why would people be more likely to give a dad a flex schedule but not a mother? The reason lies in what is inherently a gender bias. When a male asks for work flex, nearly one-quarter of the survey participants found him to be “extremely likeable,” compared with just 3 percent who found the mom extremely likeable. And while only 2.7 percent found the dad “not at all” or “not very” committed to work, a whopping 15.5 percent believed that the working mom seeking flex was not committed to her job.
“This really highlights how our expectations about men and women and how we think they’re supposed to act can influence our judgments and behaviors,” Munsch said in the Washington Post article, “Dads, Not Moms, Benefit From Flexible Work.” Munsch explains that when a man asks for flexible hours, we tend to praise him for being committed to his job and his family. However, if a working mother asks for flex, it’s perceived that she isn’t as serious about her position and will spend more time taking care of kids than her workload.
The Washington Post article notes that Munsch’s study seems to conflict with other social science that has found that men who ask for flex in the form of family leave are looked upon more harshly than their female colleagues. Those men are less likely to be promoted, and may even face a higher risk for being fired or laid off. Munsch, however, disputes the comparison by stating that the men in her study planned to work full-time hours, but flexibly. In that way, they were still considered “traditional” in terms of being a provider.
Munsch is a proponent of work flexibility, but warns that the social perception of flex work needs to change. It appears that the unconscious bias that many people unknowingly hold regarding male and female roles in the workplace (and at home) must first be addressed and changed in order for work flexibility to truly work for everyone.
photo credit: thinkstockphotos.com