More American workers are asking for flex time than ever before, but according to a new study by researchers from the Yale School of Management, Harvard Business School and the University of Texas-Austin, female employees aren't getting it. Their male coworkers, however, are a different story.
The study, "The Flexibility Stigma,"which was published in a special issue of the Journal of Social Issues found that bosses favor men when it comes to granting requests for flex time.
To examine attitudes towards flexible work schedules researchers asked managers in pharmacology (which they deemed a gender-neutral field) how they would handle flex time requests from male versus female employees and professional versus hourly workers. They also surveyed managers about how they would respond to requests for flex time for career development reasons versus for child care and family time.
What they uncovered was an across-the-board gender bias. Managers were most likely to grant flexible schedules to high-status professional men seeking career advancement. Male hourly workers were also likely to have their request approved when seeking flexibility for childcare purposes. But when it came to female employees, flex time requests were less likely to be granted regardless of job stature or reason. The bias held true for both male and female managers.
A second study conducted by the same researchers found that most employees were unaware of their biases. Interestingly, professional women with high-status jobs who requested flexible schedules in order to advance their careers were the most likely to think that their requests would be granted, while men in the same situation were the least likely to think they would get permission to move to flex time.
"Biased decisions, lack of trust, a pile of refused requests for flex: quite the recipe for creating a workplace where employee motivation, commitment, and loyalty sour," wrote Nanette Fondas in a Slate article on the study.
"There are other companies who 'get it' and realize that they benefit enormously when their employees have more broadly successful lives and are able to pursue more of their life ambitions than just their business careers," writes Sophie Wade, CEO of Flexcel Networks, in a recent Huffington Post blog. "There is movement, increased noise, compelling data and, therefore, also hope."