Two new studies conducted by a Yale researcher have found that women are less likely than men to get their requests for flexible work schedules approved. One study looked at how managers in a gender-neutral profession, such as pharmacists, dealt with requests for compressed work schedules. It found that found that both men and women managers were more likely to grant such requests by men. According to the researchers, this occurs because managers tend to respect men more than women and are thus more likely to grant their requests.
According to the study’s main author, Victoria L. Brescoll, the findings arise from the belief that the best workers only care about their work—and, therefore, those who want flexible work schedules have not made work their top priority. She said,
We [as a society] see a good worker as a fully devoted worker, somebody who is putting in a lot of face time, no matter what the cost is to themselves.
The second study, also by Brescoll, found that women tend to overestimate the likelihood of being granted flextime. Then, when women who need more flexible schedules because they are raising families are denied their requests, it reinforces the idea that they have to choose between work and family. As a result, they may switch to a less intense or part-time job, preventing them from reaching true gender equity. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to underestimate the likeliness of being approved for a flexible work schedule because they’re afraid their bosess might judge them harshly for asking.
Joan C. Williams, the director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, said that gender-based stereotypes are probably responsible for the second study’s findings:
For women, it’s the fear of triggering the strongest form of gender bias against women—[the] maternal wall. And for men, there’s fear of triggering a stigma on the grounds they’re too feminine. So both forms of stigma are driven by gender bias, which means that allowing the flexibility stigma to affect people’s careers is a potential violation of federal anti-discrimination law.
While the two studies found that women across the board are denied flexible work schedules, one group of women face schedule-based discrimination at a higher rate: single, childless women. A 2011 survey found that 61 percent of working women without children believe that coworkers (of any gender) with children are given more flexible schedules. And they’re right: A 2012 study found that in the United States, single women work almost 200 hours more a year than married women. In a June 2013 Marie Claire article, women without children from a range of professions, including lawyers and bankers, described being asked to stay late at work or work on the weekends to cover for workers who wanted to spend more time with their children. Margaret Wheeler Johnson, the women’s editor at The Huffington Post, said
It’s easy to see how single women are especially vulnerable to it. The most popular job for American women as of 2010 is still secretary/administrative assistant, which has been a top ten job for women for the last 50 years. We’re historically conditioned to think of female workers as those who support other workers.
Given that more than three quarters of women workers under the age of 30 and 43 percent of working women between 30 and 50 do not have children, the issue of scheduling discrimination against childless women has a huge significance. As Williams pointed out, denying women flexible work schedules could be considered a form of workplace discrimination; the EEOC says that fringe benefits for one employee, including work schedule flexibility, have to be available to all employees. While it may not be as obvious as sexual harassment or the pay gap, scheduling discrimination plays just as large a role in hurting women in the workplace.