There are tons of weird biases in our working world. One is that it’s easier for parents to work from home than non-parents.
This is the science behind a study from Christin Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at Furman University. According to the official press release:
[The research] found that both men and women who made flexible work requests for childcare related reasons were advantaged compared to those who made the same requests for other reasons.
Basically: if you want to shift your hours around at work, your kids are the best possible excuse.
It seems odd to draw a distinction between workers with children and workers without children. And while “parent” is not one of the so-called protected classes, it’s true that mothers and fathers have responsibilities that others don’t have.
Before we can determine whether or not parents should get special treatment with regard to flextime, there’s more in Munsch’s study:
[When] a man requested to work from home for childcare related reasons, 69.7 percent said they would be “likely” or “very likely” to approve the request, compared to 56.7 percent of those who read the scenario in which a woman made the request. Almost a quarter—24.3 percent—found the man to be “extremely likable,” compared to only 3 percent who found the woman to be “extremely likable.”
If you want to ask permission to modify your schedule, it helps tremendously to be a parent. And furthermore, it apparently helps to be a father rather than a mother.
It might be uncomfortable to talk about, but when we pick one group over another without a reasonable basis, that’s called discrimination. In the case of giving preferential treatment to parents (or non-parents), that’s sometimes called parentism. And in the case of one gender over another, it’s called sexism.
And then there’s Olga Khazan’s piece in The Atlantic, appropriately titled, Working From Home Seems More Legitimate If You Have a Kid. She writes:
But as a childless homebody who hates riding the metro, I find it alarming that people asking to work from home for non-childcare, personal reasons were at a disadvantage. The people reading the transcripts [in the study] weren’t even the workers’ actual bosses! Imagine what someone with real money on the line would do in their shoes.
With modern technology, there is almost no white-collar work task that can’t be done from home. People hate being in open-plan offices, which some research shows kill productivity anyway. Calls for a shorter workweek for everyone are growing increasingly vociferous. There should be ways for both parents and non-parents to negotiate for such things without fearing a backlash.
Here’s the bottom line: yes, discrimination is horrible. But the main reason people experience sexism, ageism, parentism, favoritism, and more at the office is because our wider culture leaks into organizations, rather than making results the primary focus of business.
If you are victimized at work or treated unfairly, you should speak up. At the same time, recognize that the office, jobsite, warehouse, or factory is a place for getting things done, not for enforcing biases. If someone wants to work from home, don’t try to judge their unique situation. Instead, continue measure their results.
The world of work is part of the larger world. Culture is changing. Expectations of gender roles, choices about having children, and the march of technology all impact our workplace experiences. These issues will not go away overnight, but the more we focus on being productive and creating value, the less we will be impacted by arbitrary traditions and hurtful biases.
Do the work, and judge the work. Don’t judge the workers.