By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
First, the good news: Men who ask for flexible work arrangements to care for their children are considered "very likely" to have their requests granted, according to a new study.
As a bonus, these family-minded men are thought of as all-around likeable chaps.
The not-so-good news: Women who ask for the same flexibility are considered significantly less likely to have their requests granted, and are thought of as uncommitted to their jobs.
Furman University sociology professor Christin Munsch's study reflects our cultural biases more than our actual workplace policies.
She asked 646 participants, ranging in age from 18 to 65, to read a transcript of a conversation between an employee and a human resource manager in which the employee asks to work from home two days a week or come in early and leave early three days a week.
Participants were then asked whether they would grant the requests and how likeable, committed, dependable and dedicated they found the employee to be.
When the request came from a male employee, 69.7 percent of participants of both genders said they would grant his request, and 24.3 percent deemed the employee "extremely likeable."
When the request came from a female employee, 56.7 percent of participants would grant her request and a measly 3 percent called her "extremely likeable."
Fifteen percent of participants called flexibility-seeking female employees "not at all" or "not very" committed to their jobs, but only 2.7 percent of participants said the same of a male employee who asked for a flexible schedule.
"These results demonstrate how cultural notions of parenting influence perceptions of people who request flexible work," Munsch writes in the study, which she presented at the recent American Sociological Association's annual meeting in San Francisco.
"We think of women's responsibilities as including paid labor and domestic obligations, but we still regard breadwinning as men's primary responsibility and we feel grateful if men contribute in the realm of child care or to other household tasks."
The solution, of course, isn't less gratitude, which, I would argue, keeps a relationship humming along like few things do.
The solution is fewer assumptions. Women who seek ways to balance home and work should be considered just as committed to their careers, and just as capable of striking a successful balance, as men who seek the same.
This requires open-minded employers who value their employees' quality of life, of course. But it also requires a shift in the cultural biases that Munsch's study lays bare.
I'm reminded of an email I once received from a reader named Tom, who wrote, "I experienced an 'aha' moment about five years ago. Whenever my wife was stressed about something, I would respond with, 'What can I do for you? What can I take off of your plate?'
I didn't realize the underlying message in my question was that all of the responsibilities like laundry, cleaning up around the house, etc., were hers and I was just helping.
Now, I see the things that need to be done as, well, things that need to be done. It really has helped."