Male bosses blocking change to flexible working

New study shows that male managers are a barrier to new fathers’ improved work-life balance.

day one flexible working law


Male supervisors are an important obstacle to new fathers who wish to access flexible working arrangements, according to a recent study.

Research by Audencia Professor Sophie Hennekam and colleagues Jasmine Kelland at the University of Plymouth and Jean-Pierre Dumazert at Excelia Business School, explores the role that male supervisors play in the low uptake of flexible work arrangements for new fathers.

The research drew on 28 interviews with fathers working in French companies who had requested access to flexible work arrangements and reported on the reaction of their supervisors. These supervisors were all fathers themselves who had previously benefited from similar flexible arrangements, but unexpectedly, they did not seem to want to grant the same access to other fathers.

To better understand these findings, an additional 16 interviews were conducted with supervisors in organisations who were fathers themselves and who had previously enjoyed flexible work arrangements. The findings show that supervising fathers can act as barriers for other fathers within organisations that are trying to push for more gender equality.

The study identified four ways in which male supervisors tend to dissuade new fathers from accessing the arrangements to which they are entitled: by sticking to outdated perceptions of gender-roles, issuing career threats, citing practical reasons, and giving little or no support within the workplace. Gender-role confirming discourses included subtle messages that the uptake of flexible work arrangements would signal a lack of commitment and would not be appreciated.

Career threats involved indicating to employees that the uptake of flexible work policies would lower their future earning potential. Similarly, practical reasons, such as the need to be present as work or the difficulties related to part-time work were put forward to dissuade the fathers-to-be to take advantage of the existing policies.

Finally, the lack of paternal workplace support consisted of challenging the wishes of their subordinates. Thus, the findings highlight the role of supervisor fathers in hampering gender equality at work. By showing that supervisor fathers can act as ‘paternal supervisor gatekeepers’ for other fathers in their organisations, the study opens new ways to explore gender equality within organisations.

Read more:

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