A flexible work schedule may seem like a dream for the Lean In generation: You can climb the corporate ladder while finding time to pick your kid up from school, or work from home while saving money on childcare. But potential employers may not be on board with the idea—at least if you're a woman, a new study presented to the American Sociological Association finds.
Researchers from Furman University in South Carolina had 646 participants read what they were told was a real transcript of a conversation between an employee and a HR representative. Participants were randomly assigned to one of a variety of conversations involving either a male employee (Kevin) or a female employee (Karen). Kevin/Karen asked for work flexibility for a few days a week, either arriving and leaving early or working from home. The reasons for requesting flexibility either involved childcare or another, unrelated need.
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After reading the conversations, participants were asked to evaluate Kevin or Karen on qualities like respectability, dependability, and dedication. They also evaluated how likely they were to grant the request, and how likely they were to give the employee a promotion.
When it came to working from home, researchers found a clear "fatherhood bonus." Male employees who requested to work from home for childcare reasons were far more likely to get their wish than those who requested for other reasons. And they were rated as more respectable, likable, committed, and promotion-worthy than a woman who made the exact same request.
Why the gender difference? It all comes down to stereotypes. Because women are seen as more likely to do labor-intensive tasks at home, like clean and cook, they may be seen as less likely to get actual work done from home while also caring for kids. Plus, men are seen as deserving of extra respect when they help out with the kids, because it's rare for them to "help" women with their childcare roles.
Study author Christin Munsch says her research is a wake-up call for those calling flexible work a cure-all for women. The data "shows that we should be hesitant in assuming this is effective," she said in a statement. Flexible work can't be accepted, she says, until gender equality is.
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