Finding a Job

Gender differences in the Approach to Flexible Work

There’s a penalty to pay for telecommuting.  Flexible work options have been touted as the ultimate solution to the work/life balance problem, but a recent survey by the non profit Catalyst looks at Flexibility vs. Face Time—Busting the Myths Behind Flexible Work Arrangements and says that there's a gender divide there, too.

When MBA candidates were asked whether they'd rather telecommute or have flexible hours, 39 percent of the women chose telecommuting over flexible hours, as opposed to only 29 percent of men. However, telecommuting may hurt employees' chances of advancement, according to recent reports.

According to the Catalyst survey, when women do take advantage of this flexibility, they may choose policies that negatively impact their chances at long-term career success.

Catalyst surveyed 726 MBA candidates -- both male and female, working across a variety of industries -- about their feelings towards flexible work policies. Eighty-one percent of respondents said that their employer offered a flexible work arrangement (including, but not limited to, telecommuting and flex time) and about half reported that flexibility was very or extremely important to them.

The numbers are clear - 64 percent of the men chose a flexible policy that allowed them to log face-time at their office, reporting that flexible arrival and departure time was their policy of choice, whereas 39 percent of women preferred to telecommute from a remote location. Only 29 percent of men reported telecommuting and were twice as likely to report never having telecommuted in the entirety of their careers.

It's  not surprising that women choose to work remotely more than men do. A 2010 Georgetown University Law Center study on workplace flexibility found that 90 percent of telecommuters reported that working remotely was beneficial for balancing work and family. Working from home can allow an employee to simultaneously do her work, see her kids off to school or put a load of laundry in while calling into a meeting.   But while telecommuters may find that the way they work benefits their personal lives -- choosing to telecommute may hurt women in the workplace.

In a Harvard Business Review response to theCatalyst survey  Anna Beninger and Nancy Carter  warned that the fact that women disproportionately telecommute, and thus sacrifice face time at their companies may, "unintentionally be creating a talent drain in companies by denying these women access to influential networks, senior-level sponsors, and advancement opportunities."   Other research has found that employees who work remotely are likely to receive poorer performance evaluations, smaller raises, and fewer promotions than their in-office colleagues."

These findings suggest that flex policies don't negatively impact women's actual work, but rather how their employers perceive their work and dedication.

We clearly have a way to go before the majority of companies are focus on work results and deliverables rather than where the work gets done.


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