A new study suggests fathers may have an easier time achieving work-life balance than mothers, also showing that deeply ingrained attitudes about motherhood may work against women hoping to balance a career and children.
The study, presented this week at the American Sociological Association, examined 646 requests for nontraditional hours and work-from-home arrangements, Fast Company reports. Study author Christin Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at Furman University, varied the requests, gender and age of the employees as well as whether they were making the request to take care of children.
The results showed that men requesting time off to take care of children were ranked favorably, while such requests could actually hurt a woman's reputation.
So, what do those results look like in number form? The margins by which respondents viewed women less favorably were not minor.
In the study, participants evaluated a scenario in which an employee asked for flextime or to telecommute for different reasons. Of those who reviewed both a man and woman's request to telecommute in order to tend to tasks, like picking a child up from a bus stop or day care, Mashable reported that 70 percent said they would be likely to grant the man's request, while only 57 percent would say yes to the woman.
Gender also seemed to influence how respondents viewed the workers. Nearly a quarter judged the father to be "extremely likable," but only 3 percent rated the mother similarly. Finally, 15.5 percent of the participants found the female employee to be "not at all" or "not very" committed to her job, while only 3 percent made the same judgment of the male employee.
Other experts think that this study represents a cultural shift of its own, according to the Fast Company article. Joanie Connell, founder of San Diego leadership consulting firm Flexible Work Solutions and author of "Lessons From the Workplace: What Parents and Schools Are Missing," says that until recently, men were more stigmatized for requesting time off for child care. As more men have done so, however, it has become more favorably viewed.
At the same time, when women make such a request, it reinforces the stereotype that mothers have too many demands on their time to be truly committed to their jobs. So, when requests that hint at a working mother needing more time off for child care emerge, some managers will make that assumption, Connell says.
There is a sliver of good news, though. When participants compared requests for flextime, or working at the office on an adapted schedule, they didn't penalize mothers in comparison to fathers - both were viewed at the same level of favorability. Munsch said this may indicate a cultural fixation with gauging productivity by the hours a worker spends at his or her desk.
Munsch, who supports flexible work practices, said the study reveals how enlightened and well-meaning policies can conflict with long-held beliefs about gender and child rearing.