Women Still Subject to Biased Assumptions About Work and Family, Study Finds

Research shows that mothers are still judged more harshly than fathers as they try to juggle work and family responsibilities. Star Jones, president of the National Association of Professional Women, shares her thoughts on the double standard and advice for overcoming it.

The work-life balancing act is a difficult one to manage—this we already know. But just how difficult it can be, especially for women, was on full display in a pair of Washington Post articles that ran on the same day last week.

The first was a report on Virgin’s new policy that would give an unprecedented full year of paid leave to new parents. “If you take care of your employees they will take care of your business. That is a philosophy that has served us well for more than four decades, and is the foundation of everything we do at Virgin,” CEO Richard Branson wrote in a blog post.

A woman’s role in the home is no longer the singular measure of a woman’s success; however, gender stereotypes persist.

But while he touted his company’s policy, another Post report looked at a study out of the Harvard Business School’s Gender Initiative, which found that women are judged much more harshly than men for clocking out for the day a little bit early. Researchers found that when a female employee punched out before the end of the day, coworkers thought it was to go take care of a family matter, whereas a male employee leaving early was thought to be meeting with a client.

So, what gives?

“The double standards and assumptions that women face at work, specifically because of gender, are issues that the National Association of Professional Women is actively trying to change,” NAPW and Professional Diversity Network (PDN) President Star Jones said in an email exchange with Associations Now. “I definitely agree with Richard Branson’s statement, ‘Health and well-being in the workplace should play a critical part in every company’s thinking.’ As a five-year survivor of heart disease, I know this very well. As the primary caregiver of most families, a woman’s health must be a priority at home and work.”

At the same time, Jones acknowledged that the findings of the Harvard Gender Initiative study were dead on.

“A woman’s role in the home is no longer the singular measure of a woman’s success; however, gender stereotypes persist,” she said. “As a result, women report they are judged differently in the workplace, regardless of performance. This has resulted in fewer executive appointments of women in the C-suite and, in turn, less pay. PDN and NAPW want to help change the status quo.”

Organizations don’t have to go all out with work-life policies like the one Branson introduced, but they can find their own happy medium. An effective policy starts with trust, Jones said.

“Having an employer trust that we will do our job regardless of our family responsibilities is what we need. We need our work to speak for itself and for our pay to be representative of our work ethics and performance, and not our gender,” she said. “A great work-life balance policy is one that incorporates equal pay and removes assumptions—allowing and trusting women to get the job done regardless of the many roles they may play outside the workplace.”

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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