Tag Archives: Work-Family Conflict

Want more women in top positions? Provide them with more flexibility at work

Heejung Chung, University of Kent

The recent BBC report on the pay of its top earners laid bare the disparities between men and women’s earnings. But it should come as no surprise. The gender pay gap has been stubbornly stagnant over the past decade. According to the EU (which calculates the gap based on hourly pay differences between men and women), men earn around 20% more. And the UK’s official statistics group, which calculates the pay gap of full-time earnings, men earn an average of about 10% more than women.

One core reason for this difference is the tendency for women to drop out of the labour market or move into (bad and low-paid) part-time jobs after having children. Employment data makes this clear.

For example, in 2015, 85% of women between the ages of 25‒49 without children were employed, exactly the same proportion as childless men employed in the same age group. But women are likely to drop out of the labour market or reduce their hours after childbirth, while men are more likely to increase their hours and increase their labour market participation.

The stats show that there is a sharp drop in the employment rate of women with children – to 71% – while the employment rate of fathers rises to more than 90% . Further, only 16% of all women between the ages of 25‒49 without dependent children worked part-time, while this proportion more than triples for women in the same age group with children to 52% .

It isn’t just about working part-time but the quality of part-time work is also a factor. It is widely known that women usually switch to lower-paying, lower-quality jobs when moving into part-time work, due to the lack of high-quality well-paid part-time jobs in the UK .

So the question arises: what can we do to help women maintain their working patterns after childbirth, without sacrificing their careers? My research into flexible working arrangements shows that they can help women maintain their working hours and stay in employment.

Introducing flexitime

Obviously the more flexibility you have at work the better you are able to shape work around family demands. I myself am a good example of this. Coming back to work from having taken six months of maternity leave after the birth of my daughter, I would not have been able to go back to work full-time if it wasn’t for the flexibility I had at work. Given the great amount of freedom you have as an academic to work whenever and wherever you want (within limits), I was able to work full-time by working from home and catching up on work during the weekends and evenings when my baby was asleep or I had other childcare support available. It was hard and I lost a lot of sleep – but through such flexibility I was able to maintain my research career.

I wondered whether similar patterns could be observed for other women in the UK. To investigate, my colleague Mariska van der Horst and I used a data set of 40,000 households to see whether being able to have control over when you work and where you work influences women’s likelihood of remaining in employment and not reducing their working hours significantly (of more than 4 hours) after the birth of their children. The results were remarkable.

In our research, which was published in the journal Human Relations, we found that women who were able to use flexitime were only half as likely to reduce their working hours after the birth of their child. This effect was especially the case for the women who used flexitime prior to the birth of their child as well as after.


Heejung Chung, CC BY-ND

In the overall sample, more than half the women reduced their working hours after the birth of their child. But less than a quarter of the women who were able to use flexitime reduced their hours, with similar results for women who were able to work from home if they wanted to. This shows that, given the chance to work flexibly, many women would stay in work and maintain their hours and their pay after having children.

As I’ve found in previous research, not all jobs allow for flexible work arrangements – and they are not necessarily provided to those in most need of them. Rather, they tend to be given more to high-skilled, higher educated workers in supervisory roles. Another recent study found that a large number of mothers are forced to leave their jobs after flexible working requests were turned down.

The ConversationIt is not only a matter of justice but also a matter of society’s economic prosperity and development to ensure that women are able to remain in the labour market across different stages of the life cycle, including childbirth. The right to flexible working is crucial if we are to tackle the problem of gender inequality in the labour market – especially when it comes to having a balance at the top of the career ladder.

Heejung Chung, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy, University of Kent

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The 24/7 Work Culture’s Toll on Families and Gender Equality – New York Times

It has often been assumed that a lack of family-friendly policies has kept many women from promotion to the highest ranks of the business world, and companies are starting to address this concern.

It may be that the lack of family-friendly policies may not be the most pressing issue. Rather the surge in hours worked by both men and women should be of primary concern as 24/7 work cultures ‘lock gender inequality in place’.

Issues of work-family conflict remain understood as primarily a woman’s problem; family-friendly policies designed to deal with work-family conflict target women and have unintended negative consequences for their careers. Yet, providing family-friend policy allows companies to focus on a narrow set of fixes and ignore more difficult questions about cultures of overwork.

Read more at the New York Times.

Stop Punishing the Family Man – HBR Blog

Men in the United States continue to face discrimination in the workplace for failing to maintain the appearance of the ‘ideal worker’, who is fully committed to work at the exclusion of family life. Even where they are taking pre-arranged or legally sanctioned leave, to care for a sick partner or new child, men face workplace stigma, marginalisation and even face losing their job.

Importantly, such workplace discrimination is ‘policed by men, but also, significantly, by women,’ says Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law.

Read more at the HBR Blog.

 

Study: work-life challenges across generations – EY

A global survey, covering nearly 10,000 employees in eight countries has found that:

  • Work-life balance is harder worldwide.
  • People are quitting their jobs because of excessive overtime hours and bosses that don’t allow flexible working.
  • Being able to work flexibly and still be on track for promotion is very important.

The leading causes of work-life conflict are that while wages have remained stagnant, their responsibilities have increased.

Workers in Germany and Japan reported the highest levels of increasing work-life conflict. German parents – alongside those in the UK, India and the US – were also most likely to report difficulties in managing work-life balance versus their non-parent colleagues.

They survey also found that approximately half of managers work more than 40 hours a week, with four in 10 saying that their hours have increased in the past five years.

Read more at EY.

How the New Flexible Economy Is Making Workers’ Lives Hell – Huffington Post

US employers are increasingly using ‘just-in-time scheduling’ to meet demands. This involves using up-to-the-minute data to make staffing decisions in real-time, meaning that employers don’t need to pay anyone to be at work unless they’re needed and avoid paying wages to workers unnecessarily:

Employers assign workers tentative shifts, and then notify them a half-hour or ten minutes before the shift is scheduled to begin whether they’re actually needed. Some even require workers to check in by phone, email, or text shortly before the shift starts.

Just-in-time scheduling is one part of the US’s new ‘flexible’ economy and is lauded by business leaders for improving control over costs.

However, it can have a negative impact on employees as steady hours and predictable pay are eroded. As well as affecting individuals’ financially, it also make planning responsibilities such as childcare. ‘Just-in-time’ scheduling and other forms of flexible work ‘businesses more efficient, but it’s a nightmare for working families’.

Read more at The Huffington Post.

Family friendly? How the shared parental rules affect you – The Guardian

This article provides an overview of new statutory shared parent leave rules that come into effect in the UK from 5 April. It notes that the rules are designed to challenge assumptions about the role women as the default stay-at-home parent.

New parents will be allowed to split up to 50 weeks off work after having a baby or adopting. The first two weeks has to be for mothers, after which the remaining leave can be shared or transferred to either parent. However, the right only extends to couples where both parents are working, meaning that 40% of fathers won’t be eligible because the mother doesn’t have a paid job.

However, there is also concern that replacement rates may be lower. Statutory rates are 90% of average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, then £139.58 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings – whichever is lower – for the next 33 weeks. In total, 39 of the 52 weeks will be paid. Employers often enhance maternity leave entitlements, but some suggest that they may be disinclined to do so for shared parental leave, fearing that there would be a massive take-up from eligible male employees. The TUC stresses that unless shared leave is backed up with better pay “couples simply won’t be able to afford to take it”.

Read more at The Guardian.

Switching on outside office risks relationships, psychologists find – The Telegraph

This article reports on a new meta-analysis of research covering 50,000 workers which found that  those who checked work email or took work calls after the office was shut were more likely to have problems with their health and private lives.

It goes on to note that while new technology was supposed to provide flexibility for workers, it actually encouraged them to be always ‘switched on’, blurring boundaries between work and life and causing work-family conflict.

The research authors note that:

“Researchers, employers and employees need to work jointly on how to make the use of technologies as beneficial as possible, reducing the negative effects. Otherwise, there is a danger of unintended knock-on effects.”

Read more at The Telegraph.

Rethink What You “Know” About High-Achieving Women – Harvard Business Review

This article looks at the experiences of graduates from Harvard Business School’s MBA programme, to learn what they had to say about work and family and how their experiences, attitudes, and decisions might shed light on current debates about women in the workplace.

The authors found that both men and women shared similar goals and aspirations upon graduation, often citing reaching certain career levels/job titles. Today, however, family happiness, relationships, and balancing life and work, along with community service and helping others, are much more on the minds of these graduates.

However, while their goals may be equivalent across genders, this article notes that their ability to meet these aspirations has played out differently for men and women.

Among those who are employed full-time, men are more likely to “have direct reports, to hold profit-and-loss responsibility, and to be in senior management positions”. Moreover, the authors found that women are less satisfied with their careers:

Whereas about 50% to 60% of men across the three generations told us they were “extremely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their experiences of meaningful work, professional accomplishments, opportunities for career growth, and compatibility of work and personal life, only 40% to 50% of women were similarly satisfied on the same dimensions.

This is in a context where it is ‘understood’ that women are also less work-focussed, and will ‘opt-out’ of work to assume the role of primary-caregiver for children/relatives, despite evidence that high proportion of women remain in full-time work. Indeed, most men surveyed assumed their careers would take priority over their opposite-sex spouse, and even for the women who had egalitarian career expectations, around half also assumed that they would perform most of the child care in their families.

The article concludes by suggesting that men, organisations and women need to overcome myths and assumptions about women’s attitudes towards work, and role as primary caregiver.

 

Read more at the HBR Blog.

Why U.S. Women Are Leaving Jobs Behind – New York Times

This article notes that while the United States had one of the top employment rates in the world for women, this has now fallen behind many European countries. The percentage of women in the American work force peaked in 1999, at 74% for those between 25 and 54. It has since fallen, to 69%. The article notes that while the economic downturn of recent years has eliminated many jobs, a lack of family-friendly policies also appears to have contributed to the lower rate.

Survey data shows that 61% of non-working women weren’t in employment due to family responsibilities, compared to 37% of non-working men. Of the women who identify as ‘homemakers’, and who have not looked for a job in the last year, nearly three-quarters would consider going back if a job offered flexible hours or allowed them to work from home.

Furthermore, there are different perceptions of non-working for men and women, and women’s experiences are more likely to reported positively than men. Women are more likely to say that not working has improved their romantic relationships and spend more time exercising than they once did. Men, meanwhile, report negative impacts on their romantic relationships and exercise less.

Yet, many women remain interested in working again, assuming the right prevailing conditions. Particularly important is the flexibility to avoid upending their family life. For many US women with children, the decision about whether to work involves weighing a particularly complex set of benefits and drawbacks. The issues, however, are often insurmountable as the United States has a dearth of programs and policies to support women in work, such as subsidized childcare, parental leaves and taxation of individuals instead of families, which are common in Europe.

The article argues that while the extensive benefits and employment protections granted the European workers has had economic impacts on job markets, the US approach of flexible labour markets with few benefits also has it’s costs, also: ” The free market leaves many families, particularly many women, struggling to find a solution that combines work and home life.”

Read more at the New York Times.

Heejung Chung on BBC Radio Kent’s Julia George Show – 24 September 2014

On Wednesday 24th September, Heejung Chung appeared on Julia George’s BBC Radio Kent show to talk about work-life balance, work-family conflict, and how flexible working can mean work extends into all aspects of life.

Clip courtesy of BBC Radio Kent.