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Does workplace bias only affect mothers?

working mother in her office talking on the phone and holding her baby


The “ideal worker” norm is a belief many employers have about their employees and is probably woven into the fabric of most organisations.

This norm defines the ideal worker – who is typically one with  single-minded devotion to his employer, available to work full time with little or no disruptions from family or personal responsibilities.

Women, especially mothers, are generally are examined in light of this definition and are seen as those who face family issues and need flexible work arrangements.

Nearly 40 percent of the participants felt that they would not be able to get ahead in their jobs if they asked for time off work.

As a result, mothers are seen as less competent, less committed to their work and that they exert less effort in their jobs which results in working mothers earning less than childless women.

When mothers take maternity leave or use flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting, temporary part-time work or job share so that they can manage their caregiving responsibilities they are violating the ideal worker norm. As a result, they face flexibility bias – which typecasts people needing flexible working arrangements as a bad worker and undeserving of any rewards.

But are mothers the only ones who are affected by flexibility bias in the workplace?

To investigate this, researchers from the University of Michigan and California State University Channel Islands tested workplace flexibility bias using a nationally representative sample of more than 2,700 employed people out of which half were men.

The participants answered questions about job satisfaction, job engagement, job-to-work spill over, work-to-job spill over and turnover intentions.

The participants were also asked about their beliefs about their workplace environment and if they could ask for time off work for personal or family reasons and still get ahead in their jobs.

Nearly 40 percent of the participants felt that they would not be able to get ahead in their jobs if they asked for time off work.

Many workers were caregivers or used flexible work arrangements.

The findings showed that flexibility bias affected all types of workers (ideal and non-ideal) and not only mothers.

Workers who reported high levels of flexibility bias felt less satisfied and engaged in their jobs with greater levels of job-to-home and home-to-job spill over. They were also more likely to look for a new job in the future than workers hired in places with less flexibility bias.

According to the researchers,  flexibility bias leaves the workers feeling unsupported by their employer as they have little control over their schedule. They also feel discriminated against if they balance work with other personal commitments.

Flexibility bias makes work an unpleasant experience. Organizations can do quite a bit to make workers feel supported and encourage them to embrace a culture that helps them balance work-life responsibilities and not feel discriminated or penalised.

Source: Sociological Perspectives


Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!