And McKinsey & Co. showed that companies with at least three women in senior management positions scored higher on a set of organizational criteria than firms with no women in top leadership roles. But despite all the evidence, too many leaders still relegate such efforts to women’s groups or poorly funded human resources initiatives rather than making them part of management’s top priorities.
And of course, workplace flexibility is not just something that mothers of young children want; it’s something that’s increasingly important for both men and women in today’s always-on, 24/7 work culture. In fact, it may be more so for men: A 2011 report by the Families and Work Institute, “The New Male Mystique,” found that the rise in “work-family conflict” — the degree to which work and family responsibilities interfere with each other — has been especially high among fathers in dual-earner households. In 1977, just 35 percent of these fathers reported feeling work-family conflict, but that leapt to 60 percent in 2008. For mothers in dual-earning couples, meanwhile, the numbers remained relatively stable: 41 percent in 1977 and 47 percent in 2008.
Even if flextime policies and work-life programs are designed for everyone, some men are hesitant to take advantage of them. Data from the Families and Work Institute reveal that men and women adopt informal flexible hours — occasionally changing their start or end times — in roughly similar numbers, but that men are far less likely to adopt part-time hours than women. Williams points to a forthcoming study in a journal she’s co-editing that found that while young men say they are just as interested in flexible schedules as young women, they didn’t plan to ask for them nearly as much, partly out of fear that they’d be seen as less masculine. “In many workplaces, men can’t realistically take flex schedules without raising eyebrows,” Williams says.
In practice, many bosses reinforce these fears, says Cali Williams Yost, the author of “Work + Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You” and a consultant based in Madison, N.J. “I’ve seen male leaders very willing to support junior women with flexibility,” she says. “But when it comes to senior men supporting junior men, men are having more trouble. I’ve had a number of them say: ‘I didn’t have that when I was their age. I missed all my kids’ soccer games.’ ”
That hasn’t stopped some men from asking anyway. McKitterick thinks he was the first man in his law firm to reduce his hours for family reasons — which, in the parlance of lawyers, means working 80 percent of his peers’ superhuman schedule or, as he calls it, “Silicon Valley hours.” But since then, more men in his firm have taken advantage of the policy, and more important, he believes, it’s paved the way for more women to do so, too.
“Women can’t think they’re treated the same when it comes to that kind of request until it’s clear that men aren’t being stigmatized by it either,” he says. “It’s not a mommy track anymore when someone can make partner — even a man — on a reduced-hours schedule.”
Yes, the pay equity gap is a critical issue for women, and simple fairness is reason enough to change it. And it’s true that because women disproportionately shoulder the responsibilities for child care and elder care, flexible work arrangements and work-life balance will always be important to them.
But the more we involve everyone in resolving these issues, and the more people in charge recognize that these issues affect everyone, the more likely it is they’ll get the attention — and the changes — that are still needed.
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