Managerial Gender Bias in Granting Flex Time, Backlash Against Men Flex Time Seekers

Managers seem to hold gender biases in granting flex time requests, and most employees inaccurately anticipate managers’ likelihood of approving these proposals.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

Men across job levels are more likely than women to be granted flex time requests to pursue career advancement or to address family issues, according to Yale’s Victoria Brescoll, Jennifer Glass of University of Texas-Austin and Harvard’s Alexandra Sedlovskaya.

Brescoll, Glass and Sedlovskaya surveyed 76 managers, 45 of whom were male, with an average age of 40, concerning their reaction to flex time (not reduced-time) request scenarios, varied by gender, job level, reasons for the request.

Jennifer Glass

Jennifer Glass

Their research reported that men in high-status jobs were more likely receive approval for career development, and men in low-level jobs tended to get flex time for family issues.
Both groups were more likely than women to receive requested work schedule accommodations.

Women with the greatest need for workplace flexibility, those in low-status jobs with childcare requirements, were among the least likely to receive accommodations from their managers.

In addition, employees tended to overestimate the likelihood of receiving a flexible work schedule and underestimate “backlash” after the request.

Women in high-status jobs requesting flextime for career advancement were most likely to think their requests would be granted, yet they had a lower approval rate than men in high-status jobs.
Conversely, these schedule-accommodated men were least likely to believe they would receive flextime for career development reasons, yet they often received approval.

Brescoll suggested that men in high-status positions who are granted flex time to pursue career development achieve more rapid career advancement, and that women in high-status roles who request flex time for the same purpose may “…be suspected of hiding the true reason for their request, or they may be viewed as less deserving of further training because it’s assumed that they’ll leave their jobs in the future.”

Working women in the workplace encounter a “gendered wall of resistance” (denials due to gender), whereas men face “status-specific resistance” (objections based on reason for flex time request), according to Brescoll.

Employees’ lack of awareness of managerial bias in granting flextime coupled with realistic concern about negative consequences of workplace accommodation requests can lead to lower productivity, unnecessary turnover and persistent social problems like child poverty and lack of upward mobility for low-wage workers.

Laurie Rudman

Laurie Rudman

Similarly, Laurie Rudman and Kris Mescher of Rutgers University reported that participants in their experiments attributed more “feminine” traits (weakness, uncertainty) and fewer “masculine” traits (competitiveness, ambition) to male leave requestors

Kris Mescher

Kris Mescher

Rudman and Mescher asked volunteers of both genders and diverse ethnic backgrounds to evaluate experimental vignettes concerning men who request a 12-week family leave to care for a sick child or an ailing mother, and either do or do not offer to make up the missed hours.

Participants attributed poor organizational citizens (“bad worker stigma”) to men who request family leave and recommended organizational penalties (e.g., demotion, layoff, ineligibility for bonus) for them.

When men were viewed with the “feminine stigma” of “weak” and other traditionally-feminine characteristics, they were more likely to incur organizational penalties.

Joseph Vandello

Joseph Vandello

Jennifer Bosson

Jennifer Bosson

The impact of these stigmas on men seeking flexible work arrangements was confirmed in related research by University of South Florida’s Joseph Vandello, Vanessa Hettinger, Jennifer  Bosson, and Jasmine Siddiqi.

Their experimental study found that volunteers assigned lower job evaluations, less masculine and more feminine traits to employees who request flex time than those with traditional work arrangements.

Jasmine Siddiqi

Jasmine Siddiqi

However, evaluators judged requestors as “warmer” and more “moral,” suggesting that flexibility-seeking employees may be more well-liked and judged as a desirable work colleague.

-*How do you highlight and counteract implicit biases in approving workplace flexibility arrangements?

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