Research result: Managers favour men when asking for flex-time

Negotiating with your boss regarding important personal matters may not be an easy thing to do. When it comes to a pay rise, a reduction of work time or a simple shift of hours, employees often fear that their requests might be rejected. Men should worry less than women about this, a new study suggests. Results were published by researchers from three American universities in the Journal of Social Issues.

When asking for flex-time, either to advance their job skills or career-related competences or to attend to family responsibilities, a test group consisting of tow men and two women received completely different and unexpected answers: While the two men got the green light the women could not push their demands through. The research team from Yale, Texas and Harvard explains this contradiction with a perception bias and a lack of respect for high-status women compared to their equal-ranking male colleagues: The senior managers in charge seem to try to preserve the existing power structure and thus grant more benefits to their male staff in order to avoid a strengthening female position in the organisation. Moreover they seem to assume that women asking for a time shift in order to advance their personal career were instead preparing for a family break. “The association between women and motherhood is so strong”, the researchers conclude, “that even women who have proven themselves by achieving a high-status occupation and asking for further career training cannot overcome this actuarial mistrust of women workers”. Consequently mothers with childcare needs who worked in lower-status hourly jobs were among the least likely to see a request approved by managers, even if they wanted to attend professional trainings.

Another survey reveals that expectations of the two gender are just the other way round: Women overestimate the likelihood that a flex-time request will be granted to them whereas men underestimated it. As a result, the disparate answers to the requests are likely to evoke pronounced dissatisfaction and a decline in employee motivation, commitment and loyality, even more if the inequal treatment cannot be justified with robust explanations. Diversity practitioners are used to these challenges and Michael Stuber has a few recommendations on this: Effective Diversity tools must tackle the perceptional biases (especially of managers and executives) as well as inter-personal micro-inequities and systemic bias and show the consistent negative implications on talent development, retention and performance as well as on the corporate culture. Moreover, Diversity initiatives should go well beyond equal opportunity and fairness, aiming at reverting at least some of the deep-rooted assumptions about, e.g., gender roles and attributes. Women-focused programmes are unlikely to achieve this as are accusations and ‘fair share’ requests which are commonly proclaimed by some of the prominent stakeholders these days.