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February 12, 2013

Men Face "Flexibility Stigma"

The Editorial Staff found this interesting:

When children were asked in a 1999 study whether they spend enough time with their parents, they had something interesting to say. They have quite enough time with their mothers, thank you. What they wanted was more time with their fathers.

Not too much has changed in the past decade. Just recently, I heard yet another story of a father who wanted to work less in order to spend more time with his children. He overheard his daughter telling friends that, although she lives in Oakland, her daddy lives in San Francisco. (He works there.) He’s home so little, she got confused.

And no wonder. Roughly 40 percent of college-educated men work 50 hours a week or more — often much more — compared with just 14 percent of college-educated women. Men who work 50 to 60 hours a week want to work an average of 13 fewer hours; those working more than 60 hours a week would prefer to work a stunning 25 less.

As a result, it’s little surprise that fathers actually now report higher levels of work-family conflict than mothers do. In a 2011 study, the Families and Work Institute found that 60 percent of fathers in dual-earner households say they experience some or a lot of work-life conflict, compared with just 35 percent in 1977. Meanwhile, the level of work-life conflict reported by similar working mothers has not changed significantly in three decades.

Why don’t more men push for change?

The answer is what I call the “flexibility stigma.” The topic may be one that’s traditionally associated with women, but in a forthcoming special publication of the Journal of Social Issues I’m co-editing, four of the nine articles actually address how much such policies impact men. What’s the bottom line from the researchers’ findings? Men face as many struggles when it comes to using flexible work policies — if not more — because child care, fairly or unfairly, is still seen as being a feminine role.

This is not the first time researchers have looked at how men fare when it comes to flexibility at work. In 2003, one group found that men who ask for family leave suffer more negative reactions than women who ask for the same. The next year, another study found that men who took even a short time off for family reasons were given lower recommendations and poorer overall performance ratings. A few years later, researchers found that as long as a father can avoid looking like he has child-care responsibilities, having kids actually helps his career. He is given higher starting salaries than a childless man and is held to lower performance and punctuality standards.

The new research goes further by trying to address why men experience such stigmas. For instance, in one case, participants were asked to rate men and women who took family leaves and those who did not. If the employee was a man and took time off, he was less likely to be recommended for promotions, raises or high-profile assignments. What became clear was not just that men were penalized for taking leaves, but why. They were seen as bad workers precisely because they were thought to have traits traditionally viewed as feminine: being weak, insecure, emotional or naïve. In other words, the flexibility stigma is a femininity stigma.

The article is fascinating because it demonstrates the lopsided way traditional gender roles are often portrayed by various interest groups. Feminists and progressives lament the fact that parenting is largely seen as "women's work" - they see all the downsides (lower pay, fewer promotions and career opportunities, etc) and none of the benefits (more time with children, a more balanced lifestyle, more freedom/flexibility, more stable families). Conservatives and MRA types, on the other hand, love to complain about more mothers getting custody (apparently, having been the primary caretaker for years is something courts shouldn't take into consideration?) or the fact that married women don't "have to" work (ignoring that many women prefer sharing child rearing duties to bearing them alone).

It's probably too strong to call this sort of thing "sexism", but we can't help being struck by the assumptions on both sides that tradeoffs don't (or shouldn't) exist. So we have professional women continuing to ask why women can't have it all (because no one can?) and articles like this complaining about the seemingly obvious tradeoff between investing less of your time/effort in your career and diminished promotion/pay prospects.

Employers generally don't care about our personal work/life balance or the arrangements we make with our spouses regarding who does what on the home front. They do care - very much - when employees' personal lives begin to intrude upon the workplace. When privately made decisions begin to impact a company's bottom line, why are they wrong to choose what is best for the company?

Typically when this sort of article comes out, we see a lot of feminist bashing and assertions that "we're all worse off" now that society is beginning to realize the importance of fathers in a child's life. What gets me is that if men are now experiencing more work/life conflict, it's because they actually have more options than they once did.

Is that really a bad thing? Adults - whether male or female - need to learn to make choices that are in line with their values and priorities. One of my sons intentionally chose a career that allowed him to be a major presence in his children's lives. He knew he was sacrificing pay to do that and still made that decision.

While we have no quarrel with discussing or recognizing the presence of tradeoffs, we're a bit mystified by the notion that people are oppressed by having more choices.

The one constant in all of this is that the victims are always hardest hit. Discuss amongst your ownselves, knuckle draggers.

Posted by Cassandra at February 12, 2013 08:49 AM

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Comments

the flexibility stigma is a femininity stigma

So let me summarize: Men face exact same tradeoffs between Work & Family as women do and this is evidence of a sexist "war on women".

Gotcha.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 12, 2013 09:42 AM

With more women in the workplace (?) with careers, and increasingly as the primary breadwinner (?), working men need more flexibility to either share or take the lead with a sick child, parent, school activity, staying home for repair work and so on.
Men may be being punished at work for having wives who are successful in the workplace? Yes, of course. But options are good. Choose well.

Posted by: tomg51 at February 12, 2013 09:50 AM

That struck me as odd, too :p

I'm not 100% convinced that it is off base though. I just think it's not the whole truth.

Over the years I've heard guys say things like that over and over and over again (the "doing X is acting like a woman" line). I do believe that a large number of men think less of other men who do things they think of as being stereotypically feminine because men openly say that sort of thing all the time.

But I also think it's just not that simple. Where I depart from the idiotic "don't act like a woman" shtick is that it's not weak to take parenting seriously. Any conservative who claims to believe that fathers play an important role in raising healthy and capable children has to recognize that 20 seconds of drive by "quality parenting" (a term I though was moronic when feminists put it forth) isn't equivalent to sustained involvement in a child's life. The idea that anyone can achieve as much in tiny increments as they will if they focus their time and energy on an endeavor just doesn't pass the common sense test.

The way I took that sentence was to say that it's not a case of a war on women, but a case that men stigmatize other men for attitudes/actions men view as 'feminine'. This isn't sexism (again, too strong a term) applied to women. It's sexism applied to men, by other men.

I think companies (and men) are probably right to suspect that anyone whose choices demonstrate that work isn't their be-all-and-end-all is balancing several priorities. But I also take a very dim view of the notion that focusing ONLY on work is always best. I know plenty of guys who are at work 24/7 and produce very little of worth. I also know women (and men) who work more reasonable hours and are incredibly productive.

I doubt I'll get much argument from you on this, Yu-Ain. Multiple studies of work productivity have shown that after a certain point, more hours at work make a person LESS productive. I don't think the answer is to be come Phrance and work 25 hours a week, but I also don't buy the notion that it takes 60 hours weeks (at least in most jobs) to be effective and productive.

Posted by: Cass at February 12, 2013 10:03 AM

Let me be clear: this is a false dichotomy. My administration has taken action to ensure that no one need make the false choice between working long hours, and spending time at home. As my new health care law comes on line, employers across this great nation will be cutting their employees to 29 hours at most. Unprecedented flexibility will soon be the watchword of the day.

Posted by: BHO at February 12, 2013 10:21 AM

Well, the thing is, if men were to start making the tradeoff in higher proportions would the "penalty" go away?

If it did, then I would agree that "acting like a woman" is the cause.

If not, then the phrase is an effect of women being more likely to make the tradeoff. (I won't argue that it isn't extremely rude.)

My opinion is that it wouldn't. The general tendency is that people who make "X" a higher priority are better at "X" than those who don't. And will do so to the detriment of "Not X".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 12, 2013 10:47 AM

...that men stigmatize other men for attitudes/actions men view as 'feminine'. This isn't sexism (again, too strong a term) applied to women. It's sexism applied to men, by other men.

Well, and it's only applied to some men -- the ones who are in the running for positions of leadership in the social order. (I'm not talking about the company's official hierarchy, but the social hierarchy among the men in the office.) Men are generally free to drop out of that competition, and assume a noncompetitive role.

This can result in receiving less respect, but does not always. Often older gentlemen opt out without losing stature. A respected elder may no longer compete for social dominance with the younger men, but simply take a position outside the social hierarchy. From there, he can do more or less as he pleases. No one is going to give him a hard time for 'acting female' unless he starts coming to work in a dress and high heels (soon to be protected behavior, no doubt).

For that matter, a sufficiently dangerous man can opt out of the competition too. I generally do, because I don't care about the social hierarchy: but the ones who do can tell I'm not to be troubled, and take it as a blessing that I don't want to fight. If I want time off to play with my boy, I wouldn't expect to get any grief over it. A reasonable amount of down time is one of the things I've always insisted on.

So you can opt out in several ways, if you want. It's just that many men really want to be part of that social hierarchy. There's another tradeoff for you.

Posted by: Grim at February 12, 2013 11:04 AM

Notice also that "sufficiently dangerous" here embraces intelligence as well as other qualities. Most of these social dominance battles in the workplace are battles of wit, and the well-armed can negotiate himself a position of respect outside of the competition.

Posted by: Grim at February 12, 2013 11:07 AM

Grim:

I want you to brace yourself, because I think I agree with pretty much everything you just said :p

This strikes me as a dangerous trend that must be stopped before it kills up all...

/running for the barricades

Posted by: Cass at February 12, 2013 11:24 AM

Let me be clear: this is a false dichotomy. My administration has taken action to ensure that no one need make the false choice between working long hours, and spending time at home. As my new health care law comes on line, employers across this great nation will be cutting their employees to 29 hours at most. Unprecedented flexibility will soon be the watchword of the day.

Comment of the day! :)

Thanks for the laugh - it was sorely needed. I've been editing footnotes and the like for an article I'm writing for a professional journal, and I'm beginning to think that slitting my wrists would have been the better course of action.

Posted by: Cass at February 12, 2013 11:26 AM

Often older gentlemen opt out without losing stature.

Though generally, this is due to having earned their respect "back in the day" by having been there, done that.

SSG Romesha can drop out of the social competetion without a loss of respect anytime he wants. He's earned his life membership in the BadAss Club.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 12, 2013 11:27 AM

The general tendency is that people who make "X" a higher priority are better at "X" than those who don't. And will do so to the detriment of "Not X".

I tend to agree. A point the spousal unit often makes is that there's a benefit to simply being in the office more hours (when things happen, you're there to handle them). On the other hand, I'm rarely in my office 9-5 and I'm continually amazed at how many decisions apparently require my input, so technology is a definite mitigating factor to the "presence" requirement of some jobs.

Posted by: Cass at February 12, 2013 11:30 AM

Oh, I think in about 10 years or so, we're going to start see office jobs start to move out of the big high rises due to IM, web-conferencing, video conferencing and the like allowing people to be "in the office" from darn near anywhere.

It could revitalize small rural communities currently suffering from "brain drain".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 12, 2013 11:44 AM

"Well, mom-in-law" your daughter/my wife is working late and it is time to change your Depends. I will avert my eyes at the appropriate moment! Let's gitter done!" Being a Boomer is not all it's cracked up to be. "Now where's the loofa?"

Posted by: vet66 at February 12, 2013 02:29 PM

That's a big part of why I posted this article, vet66. I get so sick of whiny articles that imply men never take on any familial responsibilities, and this one at least recognized that they are.

On Yu-Ain's comment, I still work from home at least 2 days a week (more if I'm working on a special project or doing research). More and more these days, our clients are working from home. It's not at all unusual to hear dogs barking or kids talking in the background during global conference calls.

98% of the time, it's not a problem but I've been on one or two where I thought, "Jeez, can't you close the door for a sec?"

On the otter heiny, when Sausage was still alive, I had a lot of clients who recognized his bark and asked how he was doing :p

Posted by: Cass at February 12, 2013 03:44 PM

There's still a lot of resistance out there to the "work from home" model. Mostly from managers who stand to lose their jobs (or at least some of their power/prestige) from the inability to directly monitor what their employees are doing at all times. And honestly, it's pretty stupid. There's not a programmer in the world who could only work onsite anymore (ok, I'll cut exceptions for those who have to work in a SCIF environment, but that's an extremely narrow band of workers). Why pay someone a living wage in Silicon Valley when you could pay them a third as much and have them work from across the country? The code works just as well regardless of where the writer is sitting when he writes it. But even companies that allow work from home still want to hold in-person meetings periodically. And I REALLY don't understand why. If management needs to make an announcement, an email will suffice. If there's a discussion that needs to be had, a conference call will work. If you MUST see the face of all the members of the discussion (again... why? but whatever) then videoconferencing is cheap and easy now. But for some reason, I think there's still a lot of resistance to the idea that workers can be productive without a manager standing over them.

Posted by: MikeD at February 13, 2013 08:40 AM

Well, having done a bit of both, there are advantages and disadvantages to being physically in the office. We have members of our team in NC, TX, and CA. It does help to see everyone in person. Not so much from a pure measuring the number of widgets produced perspective.

But the social aspect that can be missing from coworkers not being in the same location can mean the difference between someone getting back to your question today, or tomorrow.

Or next week.

Increasingly, however, when even "on-site" workers are 5 floors apart, or even in different buildings, "next door" might as well be as far away as "next state".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 13, 2013 11:18 AM

But the social aspect that can be missing from coworkers not being in the same location can mean the difference between someone getting back to your question today, or tomorrow.

Funny, I get that same effect from knowing that I can lose my job if I shrug off communications. If I ask a co-worker for an answer via email, and he doesn't get back to me, I "assume he's out of the office" and ask his supervisor. When the inevitable "why don't you ask X for this" comes, I tell the supervisor, I did but since he didn't answer I "assume he's out of the office". That normally gets fires lit quite satisfactorily. I can't say I've had a problem with folks more than one or two times.

Posted by: MikeD at February 13, 2013 12:06 PM

I have no doubt that sticks can be effective.

But sometimes the carrots work better.

I've known people to deliver exactly what was asked for and not what was actually needed.

The Fail can be quite entertaining.

Friends won't let you look stupid in public if they can help it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 13, 2013 12:41 PM

Like most things, working at home has its ups and downs.

I don't think it's for everyone, nor do I think it will ever be the norm. It seems to work best for disciplined, more mature people. Over half of my team (if you include me) work from home, but it does require a lot of effort to keep in touch with them and passing information requires extra effort.

There's a lot of stuff they'd know without my doing anything if they were in the office every day. I constantly have to check to make sure they don't get left out of conference calls and important meetings.

I think working at home can be ideal for developers. All but one of ours work from home. That said, I'm not sure I agree with this (have I ever disagreed with MikeD before?):

even companies that allow work from home still want to hold in-person meetings periodically. And I REALLY don't understand why. If management needs to make an announcement, an email will suffice. If there's a discussion that needs to be had, a conference call will work. If you MUST see the face of all the members of the discussion (again... why? but whatever) then videoconferencing is cheap and easy now. But for some reason, I think there's still a lot of resistance to the idea that workers can be productive without a manager standing over them.

I bring everyone back to our home office at least once a year for a "summit" sort of meeting. I did the first one last year and honestly didn't know if they got anything out of it. So I was surprised when this year, they asked, "Are we doing that again? Because I thought it was very helpful".

I have also worked in an office at a remote location separated from the main office and can testify that I got a lot out of being brought to the main office and meeting people I'd dealt with by phone or email in the flesh. We already had a very good working relationship (which was NOT the norm, by the way, for satellite campuses), but a lot of that was due to major sucking up on my part.

Meeting people in the flesh made the working relationships even better. People who had been fairly easy to work with before now bent over backwards to be respond to our requests. And we got to talk to them about challenges we faced b/c we were remote that they had no idea of.

I've seen the same thing with bloggers, by the way. Years ago, I attended a few blogger meetups and was surprised how much more cordial and friendly people were after meeting in person. I have also met several bloggers (and several VC readers) personally over the years, and even though they were often just the way I had imagined them to be, I came away with a deeper sense of who they were and how they see life.

One thing I find online is that I really miss being able to see facial expressions and body language. Even a person's tone or inflection provide a lot of context for what they're saying.

That's one reason I use those idiotic emoticons (which I hate) - they're a poor proxy for seeing someone's face of being able to hear the laughter in their voices, but I find them better than nothing at all.

Posted by: Cass at February 13, 2013 01:14 PM

have I ever disagreed with MikeD before?

I am sure it has happened before, even if I cannot recall any specific incident. And I say this simply because I am a man, and therefore I have been wrong at SOME point. ;)

I bring everyone back to our home office at least once a year for a "summit" sort of meeting. I did the first one last year and honestly didn't know if they got anything out of it. So I was surprised when this year, they asked, "Are we doing that again? Because I thought it was very helpful".

Well, as always with my statements YMMV. But most "all hands meetings" that have taken place in my company in the past amounted to either information dissemination with a Q&A that normally amounted to "wow, that's a great question, let me ignore or dodge it", or it was a cheerleading exercise with a room full of developers who just wanted to go back to their desks to get some work done. And those were the good ones. The bad ones lead to the Franklin-Covey nonsense, and generally made our lives miserable until management would notice that our productivity was down because of the nonsense we had to do to "meet our WIGs" instead of doing our actual productive work.

I don't particularly fault them, I suppose. Their intentions were good, but the execution was poor. I just fail to see the logic in weekly (and yes, it was that bad at one point) meetings to talk about what we were working on, when that's what I thought we had project managers for.

As for meeting other in meatspace, I'm all for it. I've considered asking permission to come visit you or Grim in the past (as I live in Augusta which isn't too far from Grim, and my parents live just south of Richmond which isn't too far from you), but mostly demure due to lack of time.

Posted by: MikeD at February 13, 2013 02:53 PM

I can't believe I haven't met Grim after all these years. I think he lives pretty close to my son's family. We generally zip in and out of there so fast it makes our heads spin.

Maybe some day if we're down for longer than a weekend, we could all meet up? That is, if'n Grim's game :)

wrt to meetings, I worried that mine was going to devolve into a massive waste of time. I think it did help having everyone in the same room. I found out a few things they needed that they didn't ask for until I asked whether there was anything we could do to make their lives easier. They weren't big things, but I was glad to have the chance to run their requests up the flagpole.

I am horrible about having weekly meetings. I talk with individuals at least once a week, but I'm not big on the group meeting thing. We're working on such different projects that I avoid meetings unless we're all doing the same thing and need to coordinate. So I agree there!

Posted by: Cass at February 13, 2013 03:01 PM

I think your attitudes towards meetings has a lot to do with your job function as well. If your position is one of turning out widgets, then meetings are a distraction from your job.

If your job is to figure out what widgets should be turned out, then meetings are a large part of your job.

I'm on a team of analysts types. It's helpful for us just to hear what everyone else is working on because the information shared just might help us find a solution on our project (Hey, I didn't know that data was available! I wonder if it's correlated to Project Y). You could almost call it "Peer Review", because it is.

If, however, your meetings are "Don't forget your mandatory training", well, those kinda suck no matter your job function.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 13, 2013 04:27 PM

Either of you are welcome at any time.

Posted by: Grim at February 13, 2013 07:12 PM

I think Yu-Ain's got the right of it. Most days, I work fairly independently at my desk. Most of my (small) department works out of the home office. We have two people elsewhere: one in the UK and one in Beijing. My bosses (up the hierarchy) all travel. Periodic department meetings (with the UK and Beijing on conference) help keep everyone aware of what is going on. We have a meeting tomorrow because the higher bosses have had to be out of the office so much, she wants to catch up with us all, and make sure tasks are being properly prioritized (we're a department where Priority 1 this week could be preempted for a new Priority 1 next week, as something else has come up... It's the nature of being the Compliance Department, I just...). We had a "workshop" last October where we brought everyone together, off-site of the home office. That helped ensure no one could find us and interrupt with their own "urgent" items... It was a great experience for all of us - even though we were in the same city as the home office, they put us all up in a hotel, we had breakfast and lunch in our meeting room while we worked through the agenda then went to dinner (someplace within walking distance of our downtown hotel), sometimes taking shop and sometimes just making small talk...

And having the girl from the UK there, I discovered that the phrase "fanny pack" is quite offensive elsewhere in the world, though it is quite innocent here :-P

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 13, 2013 10:14 PM

I tend to agree with Yu-Ain that the value of meetings depends very much on the nature of your job.

A few years ago, I was in charge of tech support and a bunch of other techie-type stuff for my firm (web site, email, DBM). I had no direct reports and only had to coordinate with one other person. So meetings, unless they were informational in nature, weren't much use to me. They got in the way. Every now and then some group would want me to sit in on their meetings and for the most part, I got nothing useful out of it and often ended up behind on more important work.

Now I have a small team of people working on a very diverse bunch of projects from research to s/w documentation to tech support to training and s/w testing to professional services (consulting). And that's nowhere near the complete list. Coordination meetings would be a complete waste of time for us b/c there's so little overlap in what various people do.

But informational and planning meetings with the departments we support are absolutely necessary. I need to know what other groups are doing, and there's a lot of long term planning that goes on that I was never involved with before (more broad policy stuff than "who's doing what this week"). And I get a voice in decisions that affect my group, which I wouldn't have if I wasn't included in the planning.

Because I'm balancing so many different tasks, we also have a meeting almost weekly just to go over what my group is doing and make sure everyone agrees on what the high priority items are. This has helped immensely because before, I would get people working on one project and something else would come along and blow that out of the water.

It was enormously frustrating and I couldn't even come up with loose plans I could manage projects to.

So I can see both sides -- where meetings can be extremely useful, and where they are frustrating and a waste of time :p

Posted by: Cass at February 14, 2013 09:41 AM

I've worked with many people who simply couldn't function unless we could work face to face, and many others who quickly adjusted to a pure email and telephone system. I'm an email-and-phone girl myself, so i struggle to understand the purpose of the in-person meetings. I haven't kept regular office hours since 1999. I am thinking of beginning a new kind of practice soon, though, and that's going to require me to work in person with some new people for a while. I'm hoping that, before long, it will become obvious to them that it doesn't make the slightest difference where I am physically. I hope so, anyway, because too much personal contact quickly makes me crazy.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 15, 2013 01:05 AM

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