You've probably heard the statistic that women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. It’s a go-to fact precisely because it neatly captures the reality of gender inequity in the workplace — but it turns out that it's just the tip of the iceberg.
A recent study done by teams from Yale, Harvard, and University of Texas-Austin uncovered new and disturbing trends that underscore a different type of gender inequity: flextime requests. It's no small thing. As workplaces move more and more into digital spaces, flextime hours have become an increasingly valuable and common workplace incentive.
The study asked managers to respond to requests for a change in regular work hours from a variety of employees — high-status and low-status workers that were both men and women. The requests by all parties were framed either by childcare/family needs or to make arrangements for professional development.
The group that scored the most positive reaction from managers? Men with high-status jobs requesting flexible hours in order to advance their careers. Women in similar situations were less likely to get their flextime approved. Men asking for flextime to care for their children were also more likely to get approval than women making the same request.
The group most in need of flexible scheduling — women in low-status jobs with childcare needs — were the least likely to be granted it. The organizers of the study think that one of the reasons women advance more slowly in their careers — besides taking time off to have children — is that they are granted less leeway than men to further their professional development.
The authors of the study also theorize that the results indicate a lack of trust in female employees. Consciously or unconsciously aware of the stereotypical association between women and childcare, managers are suspicious that even women seeking flextime to advance their careers may be hiding the real reason for their request. The managers might also have a prejudice against granting women development opportunities, since they might later choose to cut back on hours or leave the workforce in order to care for children.
Clearly, managers’ preconceived notions do everyone a disservice. If women feel uncomfortable requesting flextime, or if they're denied it when they do ask, those in charge create an environment that contributes to women leaving the workforce or stalling out in their careers. In order to avoid a brain drain, we need to cultivate a broad shift in how we think about working women. Equal rights isn't just about equal pay — it's about equal perception.