flexible work women

A recent study at the University of Kent has busted the myth that women have greater access to flexible work arrangements, especially in female-dominated workplaces.

It’s become a societal notion that women, especially those in female-dominated “pink collar” jobs, have greater access to flexible work arrangements.

But when women look around at their own lives, they don’t see the flexibility that society claims they have.

There are three key myths about the current status of flexible work arrangements for working women. An ongoing belief in these myths could drastically impact the way companies approach flexible work in the future.

One study, which looked at 27 countries across the EU, imploded these beliefs and their implications. This will hopefully open up the conversation about flexible work arrangements for both women and men moving forward.

Myth 1: Female-dominated workplaces offer more flexible work arrangements.

working momThere’s a misguided notion that women in female-dominated workplaces have access to more flexibility because “women understand women.” There’s an understanding that women can empathize with the challenges of being a female in the workplace, so female-dominated and female-operated workplaces offer greater support for flexibility and work-life balance.

However, the study found that female-dominated environments are not as supportive of flexible work arrangements as we think.

Women want flexible work arrangements, and women understand the need for flexibility. However, female-dominated industries often experience an inflexible, rigid sort of schedule. Teachers need to be in school during the hours their students are present. Nurses need to work a certain number of overnight shifts. HR managers need to be present during typical office hours.

However, thanks to new technologies and approaches to work, even the strictest schedules are becoming more flexible. For example, hospitals are hiring a number of on-demand nurses who can schedule their own shifts and work their own hours. With a wide enough talent pool, there are always nurses willing and able to work every shift while self-scheduling in accordance with their own priorities.

Forge is making flexible work more available for women looking for a greater work-life balance. See the Forge difference here.

Myth 2: Low wages are a tradeoff for flexibility.

working momFemale-dominated workplaces generally have lower wages. The excuse to justify these lower wages is that these industries offer more family-friendly arrangements.

For many people, this would actually be an acceptable tradeoff. Over 50% of surveyed employees would pick flex hours as their top perk over salary or other benefits.

As the University of Kent study proved, though, these female-dominated workplaces don’t actually offer more flexible arrangements.

In reality, female workplaces have worse flexibility and lower wages.

This calls into question the severely low wages in female-dominated workplaces. The gender wage gap may be more prevalent and less explicable than society had believed.

Myth 3: Gender-neutral or male-dominated workplaces don’t offer flexibility to women.

The University of Kent study found that gender-neutral workplaces and even male-dominated workplaces offer more flexibility than female-dominated ones. The reason for this is unclear, but it’s likely to do with an overall organizational push towards equality and flexibility for all.

The need for flexibility is not singular to women. Both men and women are fighting for the same flexible work, which bodes well for gender-neutral industries. It’s not that “women understand women” but “people understand people.”

women and flexible work

In fact, researcher Dr. Heejung Chung of the study reported that finding a “women’s work penalty” in every country in the study. Basically, women don’t seem to have a strong voice in their own work arrangements.

This could be an explanation as to why flexible work arrangements are actually best in gender-neutral environments. When both men and women are fighting for flexibility, industries start to move in that direction. When only women are fighting, the “women’s work penalty” may innately restrain them. In gender-neutral workplaces, the push for flexibility is shared by both the male and female voice.

The Bottom Line

It’s time to realize and reject the assumption that women have better access to flexible work arrangements and that female-dominated workplaces offer greater flexibility.

Women can “have it all.” However, incorrect notions about the current status of working moms and career-driven women lock women into a box. This study sheds light on the real situation about flexible work arrangements for women in a way that can push towards improvement in pink-collar jobs and beyond.


University of Kent. "Working in female-dominated workplaces means worse access to flexible working arrangements." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 January 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180124114054.htm>.