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Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 69, No. 2, 2013, pp. 209--234
Cultural Schemas, Social Class, and the Flexibility
Joan C. Williams
University of California-Hastings College of the Law
Mary Blair-Loy
University of California-San Diego
Jennifer L. Berdahl
University of Toronto
“First comes love, then comes marriage, then come flex-time and a baby carriage.”
–Statement of a supervisor, Velez v. Novartis lawsuit (Wilson, 2010)
Flexibility programs have become widespread in the United States, but their
use has not. According to a recent study, 79% of companies say they allow some
of their employees, and 37% officially allow all or most of their employees, to
periodically change starting or quitting times (Galinsky, Bond, & Sakai, 2008).
Although researchers often regard the official availability of flexibility and other
work–life policies as an indicator of an organization’s responsiveness to em-
ployees’ work–life concerns (Davis & Kalleberg, 2006), having policies on the
books does not always mean that workers feel comfortable using these policies
(Blair-Loy, Wharton, & Goodstein, 2011). Studies that have assessed usage rates
generally find that usage rates are low.
This has proved a remarkably resilient problem. The basic forms of work-
place flexibility have been around for decades: flextime, part-time schedules,
compressed workweeks, job shares (Friedman, n.d.). Yet usage of these programs
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Joan C. Williams, Distinguished
Professor of Law, Hastings Foundation Chair, Founding Director, Center for WorkLife Lawm, UC
Hastings College of the Law, 200 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. Tel: (415) 565-4706
2013 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
210 Williams, Blair-Loy, and Berdahl
has spread slowly (Galinsky et al., 2008). One study surveyed workers in 80
top U.S. companies with access to flexibility and found that a mere 2% used
telecommuting, job-sharing, and part-time schedules and only 24% used flextime
(Solomon, 1994). Another study found that only 11% of the full-time workforce
had a formal agreement with their employer to vary their work hours; a separate
18% had an informal agreement to vary their hours (Weeden, 2005). A survey of
519 employees in a financial services firm found that only 26% were currently us-
ing or had used flexible work policies (Blair-Loy & Wharton, 2002). The business
case for workplace flexibility—that flex policies are not only good for employees,
but also financially beneficial for companies—has been around for over a decade
(Williams, 2000; Williams & Huang, 2011). But somehow even the business case
fails to persuade.
Low usage rates stem in part from fears of negative career repercussions
for using these policies (Blair-Loy & Wharton, 2002; Jacobs & Gerson, 2004).
These fears appear to be well founded. The use of flexibility polices results in
wage penalties (Blair-Loy & Wharton, 2004; Glass, 2004), lower performance
evaluations (Wharton, Chivers, & Blair-Loy, 2008), and fewer promotions (Cohen
& Single, 2001; Judiesch, 1999). Other research documents that wage penalties and
marginalization are also associated with a specific type of flexible work: reduced
hours or “part-time” work (Budig & England, 2001; Epstein, Seron, Oglensky, &
Saute, 1999; Stone, 2007; Waldfogel, 1997).
Thus some of these flexibility programs appear to be merely “shelf paper,”
offered for public relations reasons but accompanied with the tacit message that
workers use workplace flexibility at their peril. But even in organizations that have
made sustained, long-term efforts to endorse and support flexibility programs,
these programs have not come close to dislodging the norm of the ideal worker
who receives the backstage support of a stay-at-home wife. For example, despite
the fact that accounting/consulting firm Deloitte & Touche has worked for over
15 years to make workplace flexibility a cornerstone of its human resource strategy,
at a recent panel one representative of the company noted that his entire department,
with two exceptions, consisted of men married to homemakers (Williams, 2010).
Despite official efforts to the contrary, then, the American workplace contin-
ues to reflect the cultural model of the 1960s, when the most common family form
was a male breadwinner married to a stay-at-home wife (Bianchi, Robinson, &
Milkie, 2006). Formal flexibility policies may recognize the realities of today’s
families, in which 70% of American children live in households with all adults in
the labor force (Kornbluh, 2003), but informal practices appear to stigmatize the
use of these policies.
This special issue argues that, in order to understand the very slow spread of
real flexibility in the workplace and to appreciate why the business case so often
fails to persuade, we must delve deeper. Resistance to workplace flexibility is not
about money. It is about morality.
Cultural Schemas and Social Class 211
The Work Devotion Schema
The schema that drives the flexibility stigma for professionals is the “work
devotion schema” (Blair-Loy, 2003), that reflects deep cultural assumptions that
work demands and deserves undivided and intensive allegiance. That schema
specifies the cognitive belief, moral commitment, and emotional salience of
making work the central focus of one’s life. Mary Blair-Loy (2010) has ex-
plored the workplace as a potent site of moral prescriptions, experienced as
externally binding mandates and subjectively compelling schemas. The work
devotion schema is both coercive—many workers feel forced to comply—and
seductive—workers may also believe that a strong work ethic helps form their
sense of self and self-worth. The use of flexible work arrangements can be in-
terpreted by superiors, co-workers, and even the employee herself as a signal
that the employee is violating the work devotion schema and is therefore morally
The work devotion schema has roots in the 17th century Protestant work ethic
in England and the American colonies (Weber, 1976). This ethic specified that
one should dedicate oneself to continuous, methodical work in a “calling” to serve
God and society. Weber (1976) argued that the Protestant work ethic retained its
cultural importance long after its religious justification had vanished. Work as a
calling and the moral elevation of a “work ethic” remain compelling for many
Americans (e.g., Rosenthal, Levy, & Moyer 2011).
In the 21st-century United States, the work devotion mandate reflects and
reinforces the Great American Speed-Up: Americans now work longer hours,
on average, than workers in most other developed countries, including Japan,
where there is even a word, karoshi, for “death by overwork” (“Death by over-
work in Japan,” 2007; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
[OECD], n.d.; Sanchez-Burks, 2002). Moreover, dual-career families in the United
States work far longer hours than do two-job families in most other industrialized
countries (Gornick & Meyers, 2005).
Today, the work devotion schema has several dimensions. These include
the acceptance of the legitimacy of work demands and identification with one’s
employer or profession, at least among the upper-middle class. This schema offers
an implicit contract between the worker and the firm, assuring the worker that
his or her sacrifices of time, talent, and energy will be honored. This schema is
institutionalized in company practices, including an expectation that employees
will minimize time spent on caregiving or else risk stigma and career penalties
(Blair-Loy, 2003). Experiencing work–family conflict can be laced with feelings
of anguish and guilt (e.g., Glavin, Schieman, & Reid, 2011). These emotions point
to moral dilemmas, as workers wrestle with conflicts among inconsistent social
ideals of the ideal worker, the good mother, and the new “involved father” (Biernat
& Kobrynowicz, 1997; Marks & Palkovitz, 2004; Williams, 2000).
212 Williams, Blair-Loy, and Berdahl
Understanding the contours of the flexibility stigma requires understanding
how it differs by class and gender. Class is an important category of analysis
here because, as studies have shown, the triggers, content, and consequences of
the work devotion schema, and the flexibility stigma that reflects it, differ by
class. Gender also is an important vector, because the content, and psychological
dynamics, of the stigma differ by gender in fundamental ways.
How the Flexibility Stigma Differs by Class Location
Without close attention to class, the picture of workplace flexibility gets
murky fast. Take, for example, the quantitative literature on workplace flexibility,
which reports that men have more workplace flexibility than women. This finding
just does not fit with studies that show that men trigger severe flexibility stigma if
they signal that caregiving responsibilities impinge in any way on their jobs (Allen,
2001; Berdahl & Moon, 2013; Butler & Skattebo, 2004; Coltrane, Miller, DeHaan,
& Stewart, 2013; Rudman & Mescher, 2013; Vandello, Hettinger, Bosson, &
Siddiqi, 2013; Wayne and Cordiero, 2003).
The confusion stems from the erasure of class. The finding that men have
more flexibility than women stems from the fact that far more men than women
occupy high status jobs, and workers in high-status jobs typically are given much
more control over their hours of work: they are seen as “trusted workers” who
are felt not to need close supervision (Kossek, Lautsch, & Eaton, 2005). Thus
when researchers define “workplace flexibility” as the ability to alter one’s work
schedule, they find that professional-managerial men have more flexibility than
anyone else because such men predominate at the top of the occupational hierarchy.
The implication that elite men have the most family-friendly workplaces is highly
misleading. Often these men’s jobs consume their lives; they are not “flexible” in
the sense of delivering work–life balance.
This problem signals a larger issue. Given how class stratified the labor market
is, the triggers for the flexibility stigma differ substantially by class (Reskin &
Padavic, 2002). A closer examination shows that not only the triggers, but also the
consequences and content, of the stigma differ in different class locations.
The first step is to define the relevant class groupings: the professionals,
the poor, and Americans who are neither rich nor poor—a group all too often
forgotten, and therefore called “missing middle” (Skocpol, 2000; Williams &
Boushey, 2010). Professionals comprise the 13% of American families who work
in managerial or professional jobs in which at least one family member has
graduated from college (the “professionals”); their median family income (as of
2008) is $147,742 (Williams & Boushey, 2010). Middle-income Americans—the
53% of American families who are neither rich nor poor—have a median income
of (as of 2008) of $64,465 (Williams & Boushey, 2010). Low-income families in
Cultural Schemas and Social Class 213
the bottom third of the income distribution have a median income of only $19,011
(again as of 2008) (Williams & Boushey, 2010).
Professionals are expected to arrange their lives to ensure unlimited availabil-
ity to work unencumbered by family responsibilities. For example, an executive in-
terviewed in Competing Devotions (Blair-Loy, 2003) describes this single-minded
focus on professional responsibilities.
“My husband [at the time] and I both worked very hard . . . All our friends
were in the office. We had no other interests. We worked on Saturdays and
were exhausted on Sundays. It was a totally stimulating and all-encompassing
job . . . You have no casual clothes because you are never casual. You don’t read.
Holidays are a nuisance because you have to stop working. I remember being
really annoyed when it was Thanksgiving. Damn, why did I have to stop working
to go eat a turkey? I missed my favorite uncle’s funeral, because I had a deposition
scheduled that was too important.” (p. 34). Work devotion both justifies and
fuels very long work hours (Jacobs & Gerson, 2004). Whereas in the past leisure
signaled elite status (“bankers’ hours”), today elite status is signaled by long
hours of high-intensity work. Thus work devotion becomes a “class act”—a way
of signaling elite status (Williams, 2010, p. 6). Thus a “real professional” stays of
his own volition until the job is done, in contrast to someone who just “punches
the clock.” (Punching the clock, of course, is an explicit reference to hourly
jobs.) The typical upper-middle-class man spends 55 hours a week at work or
commuting, spending 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. away from home each weekday or working
at least 1 day each weekend (Williams, 2010, p. 81). In professional-managerial
circles, performing as an ideal worker takes on distinct moral dimensions. Upper-
middle class American men typically “attach great importance to success-related
traits such as ambition . . . [and] a strong work ethic ...[T]hesetraits are doubly signals of both moral and socioeconomic purity” (Lamont, 1992,
p. 85).
Many professional women find themselves caught between the work devotion
schema and the family schema. Just like traditional men executives, some of the
women executives with children interviewed by Blair-Loy (2003) subcontract out
most nonwork demands to others:
“I started from the premise that I had to have a full time, live-in child care person. When
Elizabeth was little, we had a live-in nanny, always.”
“I see my [eighteen month old] daughter for fifteen minutes before I leave. Her caregiver
comes in, and I head for the train.”
“[M]y husband and I go through some periods of intense work schedules. We are thinking
about hiring someone to take over for the nanny when we can’t get back in time.” (p. 35).
214 Williams, Blair-Loy, and Berdahl
These actions make sense in light of the work devotion schema. “[M]anagerial
and professional men commonly justified their absence from the home by the
social legitimacy of their breadwinning role and their vocational calling. Now
some executive women are doing the same thing” (Blair-Loy, 2003, p. 35).
However, other mothers find that maintaining full-time careers is morally
and emotionally untenable, since they so dramatically violate the family devotion
schema’s mandate that mothers’ primary focus should be to care for their chil-
dren. To illustrate, one respondent who left her full-time executive position after
motherhood stated:
“When I meet mothers who don’t spend time with their kids, I make judgments. I think it’s
a travesty the way a lot of kids are raised this way . . . Breaking the glass ceiling, if that’s
your goal in life, then you should raise dogs.” (Blair-Loy, 2003, p. 81)
Thus the ability to live up to the work devotion schema is part of elite men’s
gender privilege. Elite women who do so actually suffer workplace penalties. This
happens because they tend to be disliked on the grounds that they are bad mothers,
given that elite mothering is seen as requiring time-intensive concerted cultivation
of elite children’s every nascent talent to protect their future class status in a
winner-take-all society (Benard & Correll, 2010; Frank, 1995; Lareau, 2003).
The flexibility stigma comes on strong when professionals work “part
time”—despite the fact that “part time” professionals may well be working a
40-hour week. Surveys consistently show that use of workplace flexibility in
general, and part-time work in particular, is seen as triggering career detriments
(Albiston, 2007; Cohen & Single, 2001). Cynthia Fuchs Epstein’s (1999) influen-
tial study of lawyers found that part-time lawyers were seen as “time deviants”:
they were flouting the accepted politics of time. Women lawyers, including many
who worked hard to introduce part-time programs, regularly report to the lead
author that young women in their firms say that they would prefer to quit rather
than go part time. Pamela Stone (2007) quotes a former marketing executive, who
became a stay-at-home mom, explaining why she left her career after trying to
work part time: it “was a really, really big deal to cut it off. Because I never
envisioned myself not working. I just felt like I would become a nobody if I quit.
Well I was sort of a nobody working too. So it was sort of, ‘Which nobody do you
want to be?’” (p. 92).
This quote aptly captures the sense in which the career detriments associated
with use of workplace flexibility is a “stigma”: that is, a bias that causes the target
to fall into social disgrace (Link & Phelan, 2001). What triggers the flexibility
stigma for professionals? In many professional environments, taking time off in
the middle of the day is not a problem, given elites’ status as trusted workers who
are not closely supervised. But taking a career break definitely is, as is signaling the
inability or unwillingness in working long hours, between 50 and 60 for lawyers
and academics, and between 70 and 90 for investment bankers and doctors.
Cultural Schemas and Social Class 215
The consequences of the flexibility stigma in professional-managerial jobs
are both reputational and concrete, with a powerful feedback loop between the
two. When caregiving constraints become salient at work, the quality of work
assignments suffers. This alone can doom a career, given that career development
is highly dependent on on-the-job highly specialized training. Yet negative career
consequences are overdetermined: other penalties include the difficulty of finding
mentors and sponsors, which again is vital for career progress in elite jobs. Another
important consequence of the flexibility stigma are the artificially high penalties
associated with taking a career break, penalties completely out of proportion to
the deterioration of human capital. Widespread anecdotal evidence, particularly in
law and the sciences, documents professionals (typically women) who are literally
unable to get a job, despite highly elite credentials, after they take a year or two off
to care for children. In a conference co-organized by the lead author, a Harvard law
graduate was told that no headhunter would want to take her on as a client because
she had taken off a single year raising a child (Bar Association of San Francisco
[BASF] Work–Life Balance Initiative Conference, 2006). Science careers also are
organized to make taking even a few years off a career-ender, although happily
this may be beginning to change. It should be noted that the flexibility stigma in
elite careers differs by field, with medicine much more open to part-time work
(Mason and Ekman, 2007).
The Poor
The triggers, consequences, and content of the flexibility stigma are very
different among low-income and low-wage workers. Low-wage jobs typically do
not require long hours. In fact, whereas elite workers complain of too many work
hours, low-wage workers often complain of too few (Jacobs & Gerson, 2004;
Lambert, 2008). In addition, given that low-wage jobs typically have no career
track, taking time off work has fewer negatives consequences: quitting a low-wage,
dead-end job simply means finding another similarly low-wage, dead-end job. As
a result, the consequences of the flexibility stigma are very different among the
poor than among professionals.
Studies show that when low-income workers ask for workplace flexibility, or
indeed when they place any kind of restrictions whatsoever on their availability
for work, they are likely to be given fewer hours. Even when low-wage employers
offer only part-time hours, they often insist on full-time work devotion. A full
94% of store managers in a study of a retail chain reported that they try to hire
workers with “open availability”—that is, a willingness to work anytime the store
is open. “The sales associates have to be flexible. They signed on for ‘whatever’—
they agreed to this when they were hired,” said one manager (Lambert & Henly,
2010, p. 19). For half (49%) of all jobs that do not require a college education,
workers’ willingness to work odd hours or to be available whenever the employer
216 Williams, Blair-Loy, and Berdahl
needs staff weighs heavily in the hiring decision (Acs & Loprest, 2008). Other
research shows that low-wage workers who need workplace flexibility often get
unceremoniously fired (Williams, 2006).
Not only the consequences, but also the triggers of the flexibility stigma
differ in the professional and low-wage contexts. Whereas the flexibility stigma
in professional-managerial jobs typically is triggered by taking a career break or
putting limits on work hours, for highly supervised workers in low-wage jobs, the
flexibility stigma typically is triggered by tardiness and absenteeism (Williams &
Huang, 2011).
Both tardiness and absenteeism are rampant due to the rigidity and instability
typical of low-wage jobs. Unlike professionals, low-wage workers typically punch
in and punch out. Being even a few minutes late can lead to losing your job. Nor
can low-wage workers typically leave in the middle of a shift: even leaving due
to a family emergency such as a child in the emergency room can lead, under a
progressive discipline system, to dismissal (Williams, 2006). Low-wage jobs are
not only rigid; many also have “just in time” schedules, replacing the stable shift
patterns commonplace a generation ago with schedules designed to match labor
supply to labor demand in real time. Thus, if fewer customers than expected appear
at a restaurant on a given day, a waitress reporting for work may well be sent home;
if a hospital ward has fewer patients than expected, nurses’ aides (who may have
taken three buses to get to work and already paid for child care) may well be
sent home with no hours. In industries where just-in-time schedules are common,
notably retail, hospitality, and health care, supervisors typically are judged chiefly
on whether they “stay within hours”: on how tightly they match labor supply
and labor demand. Moreover, just-in-time schedules typically shift from day to
day and week to week; workers often get little notice of their schedule for the
next week—3 days’ notice is commonplace. Nearly three fourths of workers said
their schedules were posted only 1 week at a time (Lambert, 2009). Shifts are
routinely extended if business is brisk or if work is not completed by the end of a
The scheduling of hourly jobs fits very poorly with low-wage workers’ fam-
ily lives. Two thirds of low-income families are headed by single parents, who
typically rely on a fragile network of family and friends for child care; their wages
are so low they typically cannot afford to pay for market child care (Williams &
Boushey, 2010, p. 17). This means that low-wage workers rely for child care on
people whose schedules often are as unstable as their own. Thus child care respon-
sibilities affect not only parents, but also the extended family networks involved
in child care. Grandmothers, in particular, play a large role: the fastest-growing
household type is organized around grandparents being the primary guardian for
their grandchildren. Indeed, grandparents are the primary guardian for 30–50%
of children under 18 in some inner cities (Pruchno, 1999). Low-income families
also are more than twice as likely as higher-income families to provide more than
Cultural Schemas and Social Class 217
30 hours of unpaid assistance a week to parents or parents in law. A majority of
workers providing elder care say they have had to go to work late, leave early,
or take time off during the day to provide care (Heymann, 2005). Finally, low
income families are much more likely than other Americans to be caring for ill
family members. One study found that nearly one third of welfare-to-work moth-
ers are caring for children with chronic illnesses (Heymann, 2000). Two thirds
of the low-wage parents interviewed for another study were caring for a child
with either a chronic health condition or a learning disability (Dodson, Manuel,
& Bravo, 2002). In addition, low-income families often must rely for health care
on emergency rooms or clinics that require long waits. Therefore, caring for an
ill family member may well be more time consuming than it is in a family that
has access to health care delivered through appointments rather than long waits.
The poor fit between the scheduling of hourly jobs, and the family care arrange-
ments among the poor, means that workers’ family care responsibilities often
interrupt work. One study found that 30% of low-income families reported in-
terrupting work due to family responsibilities in a single study week (Heymann,
The result is sky-high rates of absenteeism and turnover that are frustrat-
ing and costly to employers. Consequently, low-wage Americans have sharply
lower rates of job tenure than do more affluent workers: among those who earn
less than $25,000, over three fourths of the men and nearly half of the women
have been at their jobs for 2 years or less (Corporate Voices, 2006). Managers
often interpret low-wage workers’ high turnover and absenteeism as evidence of
irresponsibility. For example, a Milwaukee manager claimed that “massive absen-
teeism” is usually “linked to other irresponsible-type behavior” (Dodson, 2009,
p. 33). Note the moral valence: this is a different flexibility stigma than exists for
managerial-professional workers. To the extent the poor are not “trusted work-
ers,” the flexibility stigma may reflect employers’ stereotypes that the workers
are “gaming” the system by asking for leave or flexibility they do not really need
(Kirby & Krone, 2002; Wharton et al., 2008). In addition, whereas elite moth-
ers whose caregiving responsibilities become salient are faulted as workers, they
are lauded as mothers (Stone, 2007). In sharp contrast, as Lisa Dodson points
out in this issue, poor mothers often are faulted for having had children. Their
decision to have children may well be viewed as further evidence of irresponsi-
bility (Dodson, 2013). The fact that employers place workers in the position of
having to say they have unlimited availability feeds employers’ image of them as
irresponsible because so many low-wage workers’ family responsibilities mean
that they cannot realistically make themselves available for work anytime the
employer needs them. Typically, these workers hang on as long as they can,
then they simply stop showing up (Henly & Lambert, 2005). This is a strat-
egy that, of course, only serves to exacerbate the sense that these workers are
218 Williams, Blair-Loy, and Berdahl
The Missing Middle
The triggers of the flexibility stigma for the “missing middle” (Skocpol, 2000)
are more like those encountered by the poor than the rich, given that Americans
who are neither rich nor poor tend to have jobs as rigid and highly supervised as
those of the poor, with a few highly prized exceptions such as truck drivers. The
jobs in the missing middle are less likely to have just-in-time schedules than are
jobs held by low-wage workers, although mandatory overtime produces schedule
instability for some. When schedule instability arises, work–family conflict often
also arises because one of the chief forms of child care among the missing middle is
tag teaming, where parents work different shifts to care for the kids while the other
is at work. Thus if one parent is ordered to stay overtime at short notice, the family
may have to choose between Mom’s job and Dad’s job in a context where they
need both jobs to pay the mortgage. Even among middle-income families that do
not tag team, middle-income families are almost as likely as poor ones (and much
more likely than professional-managerial workers) to rely on relatives for child
care—relatives who often will have schedules as rigid as their own (Williams &
Boushey, 2010. p. 9). Thus the triggers for the flexibility stigma among the missing
middle are similar to those among the poor, with schedule instability more of a
problem for the poor, and more middle-income workers may have a modicum less
schedule rigidity than low-income ones.
The consequences to middle class workers of the flexibility stigma are also
likely to be more similar to those that affect the poor than the elite. Workers in the
kinds of jobs typically held by the missing middle—routine white-collar jobs and
blue-collar jobs—probably are more likely to get fired than quietly frozen out of
career progression (as is often the case among professionals) (Williams, 2006).
Given the relative lack of information about this group, the content of the flex-
ibility stigma remains unclear. It seems likely that middle class workers encounter
less blanket moral condemnation as irresponsible employees than do low-wage
workers. In part, this is because more middle-income jobs have a career track: after
all, one reason low-wage workers so often handle work–family conflict by quitting
is that they have little to lose by doing so, because the opportunities for career
progression are nonexistent. Also, the racialization of class means that low-income
workers are more likely to be people of color than middle-income employees; to
the extent that the “irresponsibility” charge codes racial stereotypes, that charge
may well affect a lower proportion of middle- than low-income Americans.
To the extent that the flexibility stigma for nonelite workers stems from a clash
between elites’ attempts to impose the norm of work devotion on those below,
the different relationship of blue-collar families to work devotion becomes salient.
Nonelite men often dismiss the work devotion schema as a symptom of narcissism,
and embrace a class-specific family devotion schema. Mich`
ele Lamont (2000)
notes that (in sharp contrast with professional-managerial men) about a third of
Cultural Schemas and Social Class 219
blue-collar men express distrust of ambition. Said a bank supply salesman, people
who are too ambitious “have blinders on. You miss all of life” (Lamont, 2000,
p. 110). An electronics technician saw blind ambition as narcissism, observing
that overly ambitious people are “so self-assured, so self-intense that they don’t
really care about anyone else . . . It’s me, me, me, me” (Lamont, 2000, p. 110).
Like professionals, blue-collar families place an extraordinarily high value on
hard work. But this agreement on the moral stature of hard work masks important
differences. Whereas professional men’s sense of personal growth is intertwined
with their career success rather than the quality of family life, nonelite men are
more likely to see their jobs as a means of supporting their families (Williams,
2010). “My father’s job was a means to an end...awaytoputfoodon[the]table,
said one “class migrant” who grew up working class, and ultimately opted out of
defining masculinity as being work-obsessed (Lamont, 1992, p. 33). “Blue-collar
men [i.e., stably employed, missing-middle men] put family above work, and
find greater satisfaction in family than do upper-middle-class men,” notes Lamont
(2010); “family is the realm of life in which these workers can be in charge
and gain status for doing so” (p. 30). Similarly, a study comparing Emergency
Medical Technicians (EMTs)—missing middle men—and physicians showed that
the EMTs were far more involved in their children’s daily care than were the
physicians (Shows & Gerstel, 2009).
A final class-specific aspect of the content of flexibility stigma concerns the
meaning of part-time work among white working-class men. Men’s understanding
of work as the bulwark against hard living creates a disdain for part-time work,
which blue-collar men often see as “polluting”: Lamont (2000) notes that “a tin
factory foreman, Jim Jennings puts himself above part-time workers, whom he
views as ‘dummies’” (p. 136–137). Part timers are seen as having low moral
standards, “nothing but trouble,” Lamont (2000) explains, as if “their part time
employment was to be explained by their instability, lack of character, or inability
to handle responsibility” (p. 137). This form of flexibility stigma stems from
a world view that stresses the importance of responsibility and what Lamont
(2000) calls the “disciplined self.” Workers admire men who “don’t let go, they
don’t give up, and it’s largely through work and responsibility that they assert
control over the uncertainty” associated with their relatively vulnerable economic
position and social status (Lamont, 2000, p. 23). The disciplined self is seen as
a vital precondition to “settled living”: a steady job rests on a foundation of full
time work, and part-time work is associated with “hard living” men who lack
the character, discipline and stick-to-it-ive-ness required to hold down jobs that
often are both strenuous and boring (Williams, 2010). Their distaste for part-time
work is matched by a distrust of workplace “flexibility,” which they often see
as a ruse used by employers to eliminate the premium for overtime work by
requiring workers to work short hours some days and longer than 8 hours on
other days, or by restructuring work in ways that allow employers to cut workers’
220 Williams, Blair-Loy, and Berdahl
hours if demand diminishes (Gerstel & Clawson, 2001). All this means that the
language the elite has chosen to describe the need to better mesh work and family
responsibilities—“workplace flexibility”—becomes a serious liability if the goal
is to interest blue-collar families in the discussion.
In conclusion, the content, triggers, and consequences of the flexibility stigma
all differ by class. At the same time, the content and psychological dynamics of
the stigma also differ in important ways by gender.
The Flexibility Stigma as a Gendered Phenomenon
The Flexibility Stigma for Men
The flexibility stigma is an inherently gendered phenomenon. For men, the
dynamic is straightforward. Being a good father, unlike being a good mother,
is not seen as culturally incompatible with being a good worker. Quite the con-
trary: being a good provider is seen as an integral part of being a good father
(Townsend, 2002). The traditional breadwinner ideal, still robust today, defines
being a good father as leaving the house and family caregiving behind, and going
to work. Thus, matched-resume studies for professional positions found fathers
were rated as more committed to work than men without children, more likely
to be recommended for management, offered higher starting salaries, and held
to lower performance and punctuality standards (Correll, Benard & Paik, 2007;
Cuddy, Fiske, & Glick, 2004).
Among professional men, the flexibility stigma is intertwined with the en-
actment of elite masculinity (Blair-Loy, 2003). Studies of lawyers document this.
“There’s definitely a machismo that goes with being a corporate lawyer,” said
one attorney, a woman of color (Epner, 2006). Working long hours is seen as a
“heroic activity,” noted Epstein et al. (1999, p. 22). A Silicon Valley engineer
described the conflation of manhood with working long hours, noting that his
work was “not like being a brave firefighter and going up one more flight than
your friend” (Cooper, 2002, p. 5, 7). Cooper observes that working long hours was
seen as a way of turning pencil pushing or computer keyboarding into a manly
test of physical endurance. “There’s a kind of machismo culture that you don’t
sleep,” said a father who ultimately left his job to work from home. “The suc-
cessful enactment of this masculinity,” Cooper concludes, “involves displaying
one’s exhaustion, physically and verbally, in order to convey the depth of one’s
commitment, stamina, and virility” (Williams, 2010, p. 87). The flexibility stigma
for professional men thus stems in significant part from the sense that a man who
makes caregiving responsibilities salient on the job is less of a man. This finding
is confirmed by the studies in this issue (Berdahl & Moon, 2013; Rudman &
Mescher, 2013; Vandello et al., 2013).
Cultural Schemas and Social Class 221
In some professional-managerial workplaces, gender wars emerge about the
right way to be a man as the breadwinner ideal is contested by a more contemporary
ideal of the “new, involved father” (Marks & Palkovitz, 2004). A Silicon Valley
engineer, panicked that he would jeopardize his marriage by failing to show up at
his child’s baptism, said his manager “doesn’t have two kids and a wife, he has
people who live in his house, that’s basically what he has” (Cooper, 2002, p. 21).
The rise of the nurturing father ideal may help to explain why men now report
greater levels of work–family conflict than women (Aumann, Galinsky, & Matos,
Among stably employed blue-collar men (part of our missing middle cate-
gory), the flexibility stigma is both similar and different. A man who makes his
caregiving responsibilities salient on the job often meets with similar messages
that he is not a real man. This focus on jobs as a key arena for the enactment of
manliness means that blue-collar men with child care responsibilities report that
they get teased: “The husbands think I’m pussy whipped ...There are friends of
mine who think I’m a wuss,” noted one blue-collar man (Williams, 2010). One
result is that working-class men often are so reluctant to admit that they have to
leave work to attend to family responsibilities that some would prefer to be fired
for insubordination rather than admit the reason they have to leave. The classic
example was in the union arbitration of Tractor Supply Co. (2001), in which an
employer posted notice of 2 hours of mandatory overtime (Williams, 2006, p. 19).
The worker in question refused to stay at work past his regular shift because he
had to get home to care for his grandchild. When his supervisor asked why he
would not stay, he replied that it was none of his business. The supervisor said
that accommodations could be made for reasonable excuses and then asked again
why he could not stay. The worker again said it was none of his business. So the
supervisor ordered him to stay; the worker left, and was fired for insubordination
(Williams, 2006, p. 19). This pattern of caring in secret, also seen in other arbitra-
tions, is powerful evidence of the stigma associated with a man’s admission that
he has child care responsibilities. The study of missing middle men by Jennifer
Berdahl and Sue Moon in this issue confirms a strong flexibility stigma among
these men (Berdahl & Moon, 2013).
The Flexibility Stigma for Women
While the flexibility stigma for men stems from gender-nonconforming be-
havior, the flexibility stigma for women stems from gender-conforming behav-
ior. When women request family leave or workplace flexibility, they are doing
what women are expected to do: to limit work obligations in favor of family
commitments. Pamela Stone notes that in many workplaces, women who decide
to opt out are lauded, Yet women who stay in the workplace but make their
caregiving responsibilities salient by taking leave or using workplace flexibility
222 Williams, Blair-Loy, and Berdahl
often encounter severe stigma. “When you job share [in this company], you have
‘MOMMY’ stamped in huge letters on your head,” commented a market executive
at a software company (Stone, 2013). Women lawyers at one firm told the lead
author that, after they went part time, they felt so stigmatized that they secretly
gestured “L” (for loser) on their heads when they met each other in the library.
Stone and Hernandez found in their study of highly qualified professional women
that, once women went part time, their status fell sharply, as did the quality of their
work assignments. “As time deviants, they were distrusted and expected to leave,
and they did so”—a classic case of self-fulfilling prophecy (Stone & Hernandez,
These incidents suggest that, for women, family leave or flexible work make
motherhood salient in ways that trigger gender bias against mothers, often called
“maternal wall” bias (Crosby, Williams, & Biernat, 2004). A well-known experi-
mental study found that mothers were 79% less likely to be hired, 100% less likely
to be promoted, offered an average of $11,000 less in salary, and held to higher
performance and punctuality standards than identical women without children
(Correll et al., 2007). Other studies have elaborated this theme (see Benard, Paik,
& Correll, 2008 for a review of this literature).
While the flexibility stigma probably is very similar for professional and
middle-class women, it is quite different for poor women. As noted above, em-
ployers commonly attribute sky-high levels of absenteeism and attrition to poor
mothers’ lack of a work ethic and their fundamental irresponsibility. Given the
racialization of class in the United States, this stigma is likely linked to stereo-
types about African-Americans as lazy, a stereotype that presumably stems back
to slavery (Devine & Baker, 1991). As noted above, employers often respond to
poor women’s need for flexibility by concluding that it was irresponsible of them
to have had children.
Our review of the literature relating to the stigmatization of workplace flexi-
bility and caregiving by class and by gender is summarized in Table 1. The table
represents men and women workers crossed with the two ends of the class contin-
uum, from lower income (poor) to higher income (professional). Predictions for
the “missing middle” likely fall between these two poles, although more empirical
research on this group is needed. We ground our analysis in the basic concept
of power, defined as the control over valued outcomes and resources (Fiske &
Berdahl, 2007), such as time, production, and identity.
For poor workers, control over employee production is typically viewed as
external to the employee, with the employer relying on overt economic power and
rigid work schedules to ensure employee production. For professional workers,
on the other hand, control over employee production is located internally to the
Cultural Schemas and Social Class 223
Tab le 1. Predictions for the Flexibility Stigma by Gender and Class
Class Masculinity Femininity
Competence, independence, and
work status
Warmth, (inter)dependence, and
family status
Salience of family
devotion schema
Gender and work identities in
conflict between work and
family devotion
Gender and work identities
consistent with family devotion
Employee works to live;
job supports family
Strong flexibility stigma if family
caregiving requires job
absences, tardiness, or
unavailability for certain shifts
Severe flexibility stigma if family
caregiving requires job
absences, tardiness, or
unavailability for certain shifts
Employer relies on
economic control over
Salience of work devotion
Gender and work identities
consistent with work devotion
Gender and work identities in
conflict between family and
work devotion
Employee lives to work;
family supports career
Flexibility stigma hard to trigger,
but if triggered, these men
suffer a sharp decrease in
Strong flexibility stigma if
motherhood is seen to violate
work devotion schema
Employer relies on
internalization of work
employee, with the employer relying more on the covert ideological power of the
work devotion schema to ensure loyalty and performance. These sources of control
are differentially consistent with gendered identities. “Real men” are defined by
their amount power over their own and their families’ lives, whereas poor men’s
masculine identities are threatened as weak breadwinners and subordinates to an
employer’s overt economic power. The flexibility stigma may therefore be easily
triggered in this group, which cannot easily afford additional loss of masculine
standing. Poor men may also overtly reject employer external control in an attempt
to regain their masculine dignity, as in the male worker who would rather be
fired for insubordination than admit he could not work overtime to care for a
224 Williams, Blair-Loy, and Berdahl
Professional men, on the other hand, can more commonly live up to accepted
social ideals, performing as ideal workers and as ideal men. They can be trusted
to control their own schedules and to have internalized cultural norms of work
devotion. It may be most difficult to trigger the flexibility stigma against this group.
Any deviations from the ideal worker norm would likely be assumed by evaluators
to be temporary, since professional men generally command professional resources
and household support and devoted worker persona. Like temporarily perturbed
gyroscopes, they may be assumed to return to their gravitational equilibrium of
work devotion quickly and permanently. Although elite men may find it harder
to trigger the flexibility stigma, however, once the stigma is triggered, they have
further to fall, given that they then leave the high-status categories of ideal worker
and ideal man, and plummet into the much lower-status feminized category of
family caregiver.
The situation for elite women is quite different. Professional women’s status
as ideal workers is likely to be considered suspect, or temporary, as long as they
are, or intend to be, mothers. Requesting flexible work arrangements or taking
time off may make them better able to fulfill the ideals of womanhood, and the
personal and social forces on them to be so may be seen by their supervisors and
workers as enough to permanently tilt caregiving women toward the gravitational
pull of family devotion. These women who take time off, or shorten or alter their
work schedules to care for their families, are likely to be viewed as good mothers
but failed professionals who will inevitably succumb to the forces of external
family control, making them unreliable professionals undeserving of their elite
The flexibility stigma may be even more easily triggered, and with more
severe consequences, for working women who are poor. Although many poor
women may identify with the family devotion schema, they generally encounter
the greatest level of work–family conflict since they often lack the economic and
personal resources to cover child-care. Moreover, they are likely to be seen by
employers as failed workers and as women who should not have had children in
the first place (Dodson, 2009, 2013). Any sign that they are unreliable workers
and cannot adhere to an employer’s requests may be interpreted as confirmation
of negative views of these women as workers and as women.
The articles in this issue explore this range of workers across class and gender
and the implications of flexibility and caregiving for them in the workplace. The
next section introduces these studies.
Roadmap to This Issue
This issue represents a diversity of articles that take different conceptual and
disciplinary approaches to studying the flexibility stigma. The scholars in this
issue come from law, sociology, social psychology, and organizational behavior.
Cultural Schemas and Social Class 225
The articles are organized into three sections. The first section contains two ar-
ticles that focus specifically on women and the flexibility stigma. The second
section includes three articles that turn our attention to men and the flexibil-
ity stigma. The third section contains studies of managers and workplaces, and
includes the only study to explicitly focus on middle-income workers. The con-
cluding article explores the legal and public policy implications of the flexibility
Women and the Flexibility Stigma
The first article, by Pamela Stone and Lisa Ackerly Hernandez (2013), exam-
ines the experience of flexibility stigma among elite women. Drawing on intensive
life-history interviews with 54 women who “opted out” of professional or man-
agerial jobs after having children (Stone, 2007), these authors consider the way in
which flexibility stigma influenced these women’s decisions to leave their jobs.
Stone and Hernandez find that, particularly after professional/managerial women
go part time, their status and the quality of their work assignments suffer. The
authors find both strong evidence of flexibility stigma, and that the women in-
volved do not see themselves as victims of prejudice. Instead, they buy into the
time norms that ultimately cause them to become disillusioned with their careers
and head home (Stone & Hernandez, 2013).
The second article, drawing on studies of a combined 500 lower-income work-
ing parents, Lisa Dodson (2013) considers the nature of the flexibility stigma for
low-wage earning mothers. Dodson documents just how acute are the work–family
conflicts these women face as they feel “ripped” between their work schedules and
their commitment to giving their children the care they need. She documents that
the content of the flexibility stigma is quite different for poor than for other women.
Whereas more affluent women with work–family conflict typically receive strong
messages that they should stop working and stay home with their children, poor
women are more likely to receive the message that they should not have had chil-
dren (Stone, 2007). Dodson links this message to racialized stereotypes, notably
that of the irresponsible welfare mother.
Men and the Flexibility Stigma
The next three articles focus on how the flexibility stigma affects men. Using
a national U.S. longitudinal dataset, Coltrane et al. (2013) find strong support
for the flexibility stigma thesis. After controlling for a wide variety of charac-
teristics, Coltrane and his co-authors find that men who take a career break,
reduce their hours, or are out of the labor force for family reasons sharply reduce
their earnings. In contrast to experimental studies, which typically find a larger
226 Williams, Blair-Loy, and Berdahl
flexibility stigma for men than for women (Allen & Russell, 1999; Butler &
Skattebo, 2004), Coltrane and his co-authors find few statistically significant dif-
ferences between the flexibility stigma for men and for women. Significant racial
differences emerged. While not working for family reasons depressed the wages
of whites (both men and women), the effects for Blacks and Latinos did not reach
statistical significance.
The two experimental studies of the flexibility stigma among men, by contrast,
confirm the findings of prior experimental studies that find the flexibility stigma
stronger for men than for women who make their caregiving responsibilities salient
on the job. Vandello et al. (2013) study the moral evaluations of professional men
who choose to work part time to take care of an infant. In their first study, they find
that men and women value workplace flexibility equally, but men are less likely
to say they expect to use flexibility policies to the extent they believe (as many
do) that others would see them as less masculine if they used such policies. In a
second study these authors find that use of flexibility policies caused both men
and women to be evaluated more negatively and recommended for a smaller raise.
Men were not penalized more than women on objective measures, but they faced
harsher character judgments. Both men and women who used flexibility policies
were seen as more feminine and less masculine, but this evaluation hurt the men
more because they were seen as gender deviants.
Laurie Rudman and Kris Mescher’s (2013) contribution confirms that the
flexibility stigma is a femininity stigma. Using experimental vignettes of men
who request to take a 12-week family leave to care for a sick child or an ailing
mother, and either do or do not offer to make up the lost hours, the study by
Rudman and Mescher measured the extent to which workers who took leave
were seen as deficient organizational citizens (“bad worker stigma”) and feminine
(“femininity stigma”). They found that men who took leave were viewed as bad
workers, and the bad worker stigma was associated with organizational penalties
(e.g., being demoted or downsized). Men who took leave were also seen as more
feminine, making them more likely to be penalized and less likely to be given
organizational rewards (e.g., promotions, raises, and organizational opportunities).
The femininity stigma played a more important role than did the bad worker stigma
in increasing the likelihood of workplace penalties: The femininity stigma fully
accounted for the effect of the bad worker stigma on penalties, suggesting that
male workers who took leave tend to be seen as bad workers precisely because
they are seen as feminine. The study’s findings suggest that the flexibility stigma
overlaps with caregiver bias. The study also found that Blacks who took leave
were seen as worse workers than Whites who did so. More research needs to be
done on the flexibility stigma and race; only a few studies do so (e.g., Correll
et al., 2007; Kennelly, 1999). Rudman’s pioneering study intentionally examines
race separately from social class and begins to test the interaction of race, gender,
and flexibility.
Cultural Schemas and Social Class 227
Studies of Managers and Workplaces
The third section of this issue contains field studies and studies of managers.
The field studies, by Jennifer Berdahl and Sue Moon (2013), examine two different
working-class samples of public service employees. The first sample involves
a female-dominated workforce and the second involves a male-dominated one.
These studies examine both men’s and women’s experiences of social mistreatment
in their organizations (e.g., teasing, insults, slander, and sabotage), and whether
amounts of social mistreatment relate to the amount of caregiving employees
engage in within the home. Caregiving fathers were found to suffer the highest
rates of masculinity harassment (i.e., teasing and insults for lacking masculine
characteristics or for possessing feminine ones). Women were subjected to more
social mistreatment than men overall, as a general manifestation of gender bias,
but within sex, employees who violated gender stereotypes for caregiving were
subjected to more mistreatment than those who conformed to gender stereotypes.
That is, women without children experienced the most mistreatment, followed by
mothers who did little caregiving. Mothers who did a lot of caregiving experienced
the least social mistreatment on the job among women. Among men, fathers who
did a lot of caregiving experienced the most social mistreatment, significantly less
than fathers who did little caregiving and men without children. These studies
show that caregiving fathers are at risk of greater masculinity harassment and
general mistreatment; the fatherhood bonus documented by earlier studies was
limited to traditional fathers who evidenced little domestic work (Correll et al.,
2007; Cuddy et al., 2004). These studies suggest that gender bias (being seen as a
bad woman or a bad man) drives workplace mistreatment more than ideal worker
bias does (being seen as a good or bad worker), at least in these middle-income
work environments.
The United States is unusual in its reliance on free-market mechanisms
for setting workplace schedules and access to flexibility. Brescoll, Glass, and
Sedlovskaya (2013) studied managers’ responses to workers’ requests for a com-
pressed workweek with experimental scenarios. These authors examine whether
managers who are asked to play the role of an employer react differently to men
and women who request flex time, and whether their reaction depends on the rea-
son for the request and/or the status of the employee. In their first study, they found
that managers are more likely to grant compressed workweeks to high-status men
than to high-status women when the request was made for career development rea-
sons. Managers were more likely to grant the same request to men in low-status
jobs, as compared with men in high-status jobs, when the request stemmed from
family reasons. Women were less likely to have their request for a compressed
workweek granted, regardless of their reason for requesting flex-time and regard-
less of their status. Low-status mothers were least likely to have their requests for
flex-time granted for child care reasons. This study, unlike others, did not find that
228 Williams, Blair-Loy, and Berdahl
men seeking flex-time for childcare reasons were more likely than women to be
denied. The authors suggest that status may be a better predictor than gender of
managers’ reactions. The second study found that both men and women believed
it was less likely that their requests for leave would be granted than is actually
likely to be the case. High-status women overestimated, whereas high-status men
underestimated, the likelihood that their request for flex-time would be granted
for child care reasons.
The concluding article, by Stephanie Bornstein (2013), places the studies
presented in this issue within a larger legal and public policy context. She concludes
that, because the flexibility stigma is rooted in gender stereotypes, its effects can
be litigated under Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination because of sex. Second,
prior as well as the present research suggests that private and public policies that
encourage the adoption of workplace flexibility must also control for bias against
mothers and gender nonconforming fathers, lest such policies be undermined by
the flexibility stigma.
The articles in this special issue document the pervasive moral underpinnings
of the flexibility stigma in North American society. Despite the increased avail-
ability of flexible work arrangements on the books of many American employers,
there is a perplexing underutilization of these arrangements on the part of Ameri-
can workers in light of their strong desire and desperate need for such flexibility.
The articles in this issue suggest that moral convictions, not rational organiza-
tional concerns about merit and performance, define the social context that drives
this gap. Deep-rooted cultural values of work devotion, personal responsibility,
and gender identity run through the causal streams revealed by these studies of
flexibility stigma. Rather than questioning these cultural truisms, professional
women driven out of the workplace accepted extreme time norms as legitimate;
poor women were told they should not have had children; both men and women
suffered economic penalties for caregiving, and men suffered character judgments
as failed men; and gender performance, rather than work performance, defined
treatment of middle-class workers on the job. These sociocultural forces not only
determined the consequences of flexibility, but distorted perceptions of it, as peo-
ple misunderstood the gendered and status-based nature of access to flexibility.
In sum, the articles in this issue reveal that flexibility stigma is rooted in gender
stereotypes and class divisions, qualifying it for Title VII legal redress.
It is our hope that this special issue spurs further research and dialogue into
the reasons behind the failure of the American workplace to successfully adapt
to the realities of the American workforce. With the most family-hostile public
policy and the highest levels of work–family conflict of industrialized countries
(Gornick & Meyers, 2005), the societal and economic threats posed by this failure
Cultural Schemas and Social Class 229
are serious indeed. Only by continuing to reveal, understand, and make public
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JOAN C. WILLIAMS, Distinguished Professor of Law and 1066 Foundation Chair
at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, has played a central
role in reshaping the debates over gender, class, and work–family issues for the past
quarter century. Williams is founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law and
Director of the Project for Attorney Retention (PAR). A prize-winning author and
expert on work/family issues, she is author of Unbending Gender: Why Family
and Work Conflict and What to Do About It (Oxford University Press, 2000),
which won the 2000 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award. She has authored
or co-authored six books and over 70 law review articles. She also has played a
central role in organizing social scientists to document maternal wall bias, notably
in a special issue of the Journal of Social Issues (2004), co-edited with Monica
Biernat and Faye Crosby, which was awarded the Distinguished Publication Award
by the Association for Women in Psychology. In 2006, she received the Margaret
Brent Award for Women Lawyers of Achievement, and in 2008, she delivered
Cultural Schemas and Social Class 233
the Massey Lectures in American Civilization at Harvard University. Williams’
current research focuses on how work–family conflict differs at different class
locations; how gender bias differs by race; and on the role of gender pressures on
men in creating work–family conflict and gender inequality. The culmination of
this work is her most recent book, Reshaping the Work–Family Debate: Why Men
and Class Matter (Harvard, 2010). Professor Williams would like to thank Robin
Devaux and Katherine Ullman of the Center for WorkLife Law for their assistance
with this article.
MARY BLAIR-LOY (BA and PhD from the University of Chicago, MDiv from
Harvard University) is Associate Professor of Sociology and Founding Director of
the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions at the University of Califor-
nia, San Diego. She uses multiple methods to study gender, the economy, work, and
family. Blair-Loy explicitly analyzes broadly shared, cultural models of a worth-
while life, such as the work devotion schema and the family devotion schema,
which help shape workplace and family structures and frame certain decisions as
morally and emotionally compelling, while defining others as off-limits. Blair-
Loy’s award-winning book, Competing Devotions: Career and Family among
Women Executives (2003, Harvard), focused on these issues for executive women,
while a new study addresses these issues among executive men. Recent research
extends this framework beyond business elites to call center workers (with Amy
Wharton and Sarah Chivers) and to professionals in science and technology (with
Erin Cech). Further, she analyzes the institutionalization of corporate work–family
policies (with Amy Wharton) and organizational ideologies (with Wharton and
Jerry Goodstein). In an edited ANNALS collection, Blair-Loy and colleagues ar-
gue that cultural sociology thrives when it is engaged with empirical research on
social inequalities and other concrete problems.
JENNIFER L. BERDAHL is Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour at
the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Prior
to that she was an Assistant Professor at the Haas School of Business at the Uni-
versity of California, Berkeley. Berdahl earned her PhD in Social, Organizational,
and Industrial Psychology and a Master’s degree in Labor and Industrial Relations
from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. She studied childcare in the
United States with a national survey at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC
and examined occupational sex segregation and the gender wage gap with labor
economists. Berdahl has focused on the social psychology of power and status
in small groups and in organizations, with an emphasis on workplace harassment
and undermining—broadly defined to include social exclusion, derogation, sab-
otage, and threat—as a behavioral means of maintaining and reinforcing social
hierarchies at work. Her work has highlighted how prescriptive stereotypes and
social identities surrounding race and gender get defined and enforced through
234 Williams, Blair-Loy, and Berdahl
social treatment in the workplace. Berdahl has served as an expert witness on sex
discrimination cases, including for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Com-
mission (EEOC) and reviews for the National Science Foundation. Berdahl is an
Associate Editor of the Annals of the Academy of Management and serves on the
editorial boards of the Journal of Applied Psychology,Journal of Organizational
Behavior, and Organizational Psychology Review.
... Gender norms and role expectations may have important implications here. Women-especially mothersare expected to be more involved in private life while men-especially fathers-are more involved in their working life (Bielby & Bielby, 1992;Williams et al., 2013). As a result, there may be gender and parenthood-related differences in the use of ICT and the dissolution of boundaries between these spheres of life. ...
... Furthermore, cultural and social structures, which are themselves gendered, affect the formation of boundaries (Ashforth et al., 2000). These structures are expressed, for example, in the "ideal worker norm" (Williams et al., 2013), which demands complete availability for gainful employment and the subordination of private demands to working demands. Men are better able than women to meet these expectations because they still have less responsibility for private demands alongside their gainful employment (Hobler et al., 2020). ...
... Men might also be less affected by stigmatisation than women, even when they ask for flexibility to cope with private demands. "Gender status beliefs" (Ridgeway & Correll, 2004) imply women will be less productive, regardless whether they are mothers, while men are described as "ideal workers," even when they have children (Acker, 1990;Williams et al., 2013). Fathers who request flexibility for family reasons can also face the so-called "flexibility stigma" (Rudman & Mescher, 2013) but women are affected by this stigma even if they do not have children, which could prevent them from demanding flexibility. ...
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Information and communication technologies (ICTs) promote flexible forms of work. Based on analyses of data from the German BIBB/BAuA Employment Survey 2018, this article shows that ICT (computer/internet) use is associated with both overtime and better temporal alignment of work and private life. Additional analyses show that these associations differ by gender and parenthood. Especially if also working from home, men with and without children do more overtime when they use ICTs than women with and without children. Better temporal alignment is found only among men without children who use ICTs and work from home compared to women without children.
... Another relevant strand of research concerns the existence of the 'flexibility stigma'. Described first by Williams et al. (2013), the flexibility stigma is the perception that people who work flexibly to facilitate a parenting role are less committed to their paid work. This perception can affect the behaviour of working parents who want to take up flexible working, but fear negative career consequences. ...
... Thus many professionals internalise their devotion to work. They perceive excessive demands on their time as legitimate and they identify strongly with their employer (Byun & Won, 2020;Williams et al., 2013). So professional fathers who want to be active parents face a double bind that involves organizational but also internal pressure to conform to the ideal worker norm. ...
... Flexible working patterns are usually accessible for new mothers but not new fathers (Holter, 2007;Tanquerel & Grau-Grau, 2020). These underlying norms are bolstered by the (often perceived) need to work long hours (Blair-Loy & Williams, 2017), to be available beyond normal working hours (Williams et al., 2013) and the threat of negative consequences if fathers reduce their working hours or work flexibly to accommodate their caring role (Berdahl & Moon, 2013;Byun & Won, 2020;Kelland et al., 2022;Petts et al., 2022). There appears to be a fundamental disconnect between organizational agendas (built on the assumption that men, unlike women, are indispensable to the workforce) and the small but increasing number of fathers who seek greater involvement as parents. ...
The introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) in the UK provided an opportunity for more fathers to take time out of work to be primary carers. The article presents the findings from qualitative interviews carried out with ten British fathers, which analyses their experiences of requesting SPL and the level of organizational support available to them on taking leave. In terms of requesting SPL and on their return to work, two approaches are discernible: these are described as ‘cautious’ and ‘bold’. Although maintaining their commitment to being involved parents, cautious fathers tended to conform to the ideal worker norm. They did so by adopting strategies to mitigate any anticipated career penalty, which included adjusting the timing and length of their leave. Thus the values associated with the ideal worker norm represent a psychological barrier to fathers who might otherwise want to take a longer period of leave or adjust their working hours post-leave. By contrast, bold fathers are less concerned about accommodating their employer's needs in requesting SPL and are prepared to adjust their working hours to facilitate involved fatherhood. The article concludes by considering appropriate responses for policymakers, fathers and organizations.
... Second, at the level of the workplace, we consider the prevalence of the organizational norm of high work devotion (Kelly et al., 2010;Williams et al., 2013), which has also been used to identify family-unfriendly workplace cultures (Thompson et al., 1999). We argue that the norm of high work devotion decreases the likelihood that digital communication goes hand in hand with more WLSSB as it means little supervisory interest and agency in enacting WLSSB in digital work communication. ...
... Previous research has found that a meaningful share of organizations continues to adhere to the ideal worker norm of high work devotion, where being highly accessible for work is expected and rewarded (Cha & Weeden, 2014;Williams et al., 2013). In these contexts, digital communication is likely to be used due to the flexibility interests of supervisors to make employees more available for work regardless of time and place (Arnold, 2003;Duxbury et al., 2014;Piszczek, 2017;Wajcman & Rose, 2011). ...
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The spread of digital communication in the employee–supervisor exchange relation has increased the risks of blurred boundaries between life domains and, subsequently, the need for work–life supportive supervisor behaviors (WLSSB). However, media richness and social presence theory indicate that WLSSB is simultaneously at risk because close bonds with supervisors are more difficult to develop and challenges in integrating work and personal life are more difficult to be signaled and understood. Following social network theory in the argument that it is not only the characteristic of the medium that is of importance but also the social embeddedness of its use, this research asks to what extent the association of digital communication with one’s supervisor and perceived WLSSB is context‐dependent. The overall results based on the European Social Survey (round 10) reveal that in‐person communication is more strongly associated with WLSSB than digital communication. However, more nuanced investigations suggest that this is not necessarily driven by the richness of the mode of communication. We find that the meaning of digital communication with one’s supervisor gains importance in size and significance (a) where it complements seldom in‐person communication, (b) where the organizational norm of high work devotion is weak, and (c) where work–life supportive state policies are pronounced. We conclude that the implications of digital communication for WLSSB are dependent on the centrality of digital communication in opportunities for the exchange of WLSSB and dependent on supervisors’ interest and agency to enact WLSSB in digital work communication.
... Men are also more likely to face flexibility stigma (i.e. the belief that flexible workers create more work for colleagues (Chung, 2018a)), or to be penalized for not conforming to the "ideal worker" norm (i.e. prioritizing work over any other responsibility (Williams et al., 2013)). Consequently, FWAs become more available for women than for men because women are more often expected to provide care (Chung, 2019b;Hr zenjak and Humer, 2018). ...
Purpose This paper aims to assess the design of national-level flexible work arrangement (FWA) policies, evaluating their potential to serve as an effective resource for employees to work flexibly depending on how they set the stage for flexibility claims that will be subject to industrial and workplace dynamics. Design/methodology/approach Using a capability approach, the authors conceptualize and operationalize two aspects of FWA policy design, namely accessibility and availability. The authors' analysis allows for an understanding of how the availability and accessibility of national FWA policies explicitly and implicitly restrict or facilitate flexible working in a structural manner. The study focuses on countries with differing working time regimes and gender norms on work and care: the Netherlands, Spain and Slovenia. Findings The authors' findings highlight how FWA accessibility is broader when national policy is specified and FWA availability is not conditional to care. In Spain and Slovenia, access to FWAs depends on whether employees have care responsibilities, which reduces accessibility and reinforces gender imbalances in care provision. In contrast, the Netherlands provides FWAs universally, resulting in wider availability and accessibility of FWAs for employees regardless of their care responsibilities. Despite this universal provision, gender imbalances remain. Originality/value The originality of this paper lies in its conceptualization and operationalization of FWAs at the national level using a capability approach. The study adds to the existing literature on flexible working and provides insights for policymakers to design more effective FWAs.
... Ideal workers are expected to work long hours, which is enabled through them not having a disability or impairment (Foster & Wass, 2012;Osterud, 2022). Ideal workers are also able to work these hours through having a "wife" who takes care of domestic duties (Bishu & Headley, 2020;Williams et al., 2013). Further, the long hours are a proxy for high performance (Lott & Abendroth, 2020). ...
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The ideal worker norm is associated with specific ways of working. The ideal worker is a man who works long hours, is constantly available, and highly productive. Emerging research suggests that the shock of COVID‐19, which forced millions of employees to work from home, may have been powerful enough to disrupt the ideal worker norm. We therefore ask: how did working from home during the pandemic impact the ideal worker norm? We apply Acker's ideal worker norm to determine whether different groups of women employees who worked from home during the pandemic worked in ways which aligned to the norm. We conduct this analysis through the lens of two modalities of time: being clock time and (feminine) process time. Our examination of how employees experienced time extends existing, yet limited, research focused on time use during the pandemic. We used a mixed‐method design to analyze survey data from almost 5000 Australian employees to show that significant proportions of women, women carers, and disabled women worked in a manner aligned more to the ideal worker norm, compared with pre‐COVID times. We therefore conclude that a multidimensional ideal worker is emerging and one which works to both clock time and process time. This is an important finding as we seek to better understand how employees can work in a hybrid environment and what this means for organizations and employees.
New trends in the organization of economic and private life have added a major wrinkle to the still unfolding gender revolution. The decline of the standard employment relationship has eroded the ability of salaried and wage‐earning men to support a family household, while the decline of permanent, heterosexual marriage has undermined the traditional gender bargain that encouraged most women to provide unpaid caregiving in exchange for a partner's financial support. These widespread social shifts have created new economic insecurities and intensified work–family conflicts. Drawing on 120 in‐depth interviews with a diverse group of mid‐life adults, I examine how workers and parents are navigating these new conflicts and insecurities. Four work‐care strategies are emerging, all of which involve significant trade‐offs. Among the four patterns, however, people are most satisfied with an egalitarian strategy. A substantial proportion in the other groups, which include traditional couples, childless singles, and unequal dual‐earners, also express a preference for a more egalitarian sharing of work and care, although the preference for equality varies by gender. Effective social policy thus needs to insure that everyone—including people of all genders, class positions, and family circumstances—has the opportunity to forge a more equal, blended, and secure division of work and caregiving.
This inductive study of 44 consultants in a prominent consulting firm examines how consultants set work-life boundaries without getting stigmatized and how they develop their workplace relationships into sources of help for this process. Within this organization, dominated by the ideal worker norm, we found a hidden, self-sustaining network of consultants who delivered excellent work while violating the ideal worker norm without stigmatization. Their way of working was based on a coherent set of beliefs about work and the work-life interface we named the sustainable worker schema, which contrasted with the ideal worker schema in all ways except in the ultimate goals: high performance and excellent work. Essential to this way of working was not only effective management of boundaries between work and life outside of work (work-life boundaries) but also effective management of boundaries around each work task or project (work boundaries). Consultants who embraced the sustainable worker schema worked fewer hours and achieved higher satisfaction with work-life balance than their counterparts. Together, these findings highlight the importance of embracing the centrality of work in work-life research; underscore the power of invisibility when challenging the ideal worker norm; and paint a rich picture of boundary work as a network-level phenomenon. Funding: This work was supported by Simmons University [Diane K. Trust Chair in Leadership Development, President’s Fund for Faculty Excellence] and University of Massachusetts Amherst [John F. Kennedy Faculty Fellowship].
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Introduction This study aims to understand (a) how remote workers respond to threats to their identity and (b) the conditions in which each coping response tends to occur more frequently. Methods To this end, we pursued a grounded theory approach, conducting interviews with 71 individuals who chose to work remotely. Results Our model and theoretical propositions create insights into how remote workers respond to negative stigma from a range of origins. While some responses lead to restructuring the remote workers’ identity (identity restructuring responses), others involve keeping the enactment of such identity (identity-preserving responses) or maintaining a paradoxical relationship between restructuring and preserving the identity (paradoxical identity work responses). We also theorise on the conditions under which each response is more likely to occur. Discussion We expand the predominant focus on the meso and macro aspects of this type of work to the micro-interactions in which these individuals engage, thus highlighting how identity is made, performed, created, and enacted, within specific boundary conditions. In addition, by reflecting upon remote workers’ identity threats in light of the wider macro context. We also explore the conditions under which specific kinds of responses tend to emerge.
Noting a phenomenon that might seem to recall a previous era, The New York Times Magazine recently portrayed women who leave their careers in order to become full-time mothers as "opting out." But, are high-achieving professional women really choosing to abandon their careers in order to return home? This provocative study is the first to tackle this issue from the perspective of the women themselves. Based on a series of candid, in-depth interviews with women who returned home after working as doctors, lawyers, bankers, scientists, and other professions, Pamela Stone explores the role that their husbands, children, and coworkers play in their decision; how womens efforts to construct new lives and new identities unfold once they are home; and where their aspirations and plans for the future lie. What we learncontrary to many media perceptionsis that these high-flying women are not opting out but are instead being pushed out of the workplace. Drawing on their experiences, Stone outlines concrete ideas for redesigning workplaces to make it easier for womenand mento attain their goal of living rewarding lives that combine both families and careers.
Book The wrenching decision facing successful women choosing between demanding careers and intensive family lives has been the subject of many articles and books, most of which propose strategies for resolving the dilemma. Competing Devotions focuses on broader social and cultural forces that create women’s identities and shape their understanding of what makes life worth living. Mary Blair-Loy examines the career paths of women financial executives who have tried various approaches to balancing career and family. The professional level these women have attained requires a huge commitment of time, energy, and emotion that seems natural to employers and clients, who assume that a career deserves single-minded allegiance. Meanwhile, these women must confront the cultural model of family that defines marriage and motherhood as a woman’s primary vocation. This ideal promises women creativity, intimacy, and financial stability in caring for a family. It defines children as fragile and assumes that men lack the selflessness and patience that children’s primary caregivers need. This ideal is taken for granted in much of contemporary society. The power of these assumptions is enormous but not absolute. Competing Devotions identifies women executives who try to reshape these ideas. These mavericks, who face great resistance but are aided by new ideological and material resources that come with historical change, may eventually redefine both the nuclear family and the capitalist firm in ways that reduce work–family conflict.
In the past few decades the number of women entering graduate and professional schools has been going up and up, while the number of women reaching the top rung of the corporate and academic worlds has remained relatively stagnant. Why are so many women falling off the fast track? This book traces the career paths of the first generation of ambitious women who started careers in academia, law, medicine, business, and the media in large numbers in the 1970s and '80s. Many women who had started families but continued working had ended up veering off the path to upper management at a point the author calls "the second glass ceiling." Rather than sticking to their original career goals, they allowed themselves to slide into a second tier of management that offers fewer hours, less pay, lower prestige, and limited upward mobility. Men who did likewise-entered the career world with high aspirations and then started families while working-not only did not show the same trend, they reached even higher levels of professional success than men who had no families at all. Along with her daughter, an aspiring journalist, the author has written a guide for young women who are facing the tough decision of when-and if-to start a family. It is also a guide for older women seeking a second chance to break through to the next level, as the author herself did in academia. © 2007 by Mary Ann Mason and Eve Mason Ekman. All rights reserved.
Class does make a difference in the lives and futures of American children. Drawing on in-depth observations of black and white middle-class, working-class, and poor families, Unequal Childhoods explores this fact, offering a picture of childhood today. Here are the frenetic families managing their children's hectic schedules of "leisure" activities; and here are families with plenty of time but little economic security. Lareau shows how middle-class parents, whether black or white, engage in a process of "concerted cultivation" designed to draw out children's talents and skills, while working-class and poor families rely on "the accomplishment of natural growth," in which a child's development unfolds spontaneously—as long as basic comfort, food, and shelter are provided. Each of these approaches to childrearing brings its own benefits and its own drawbacks. In identifying and analyzing differences between the two, Lareau demonstrates the power, and limits, of social class in shaping the lives of America's children. The first edition of Unequal Childhoods was an instant classic, portraying in riveting detail the unexpected ways in which social class influences parenting in white and African American families. A decade later, Annette Lareau has revisited the same families and interviewed the original subjects to examine the impact of social class in the transition to adulthood.
Social science research on stigma has grown dramatically over the past two decades, particularly in social psychology, where researchers have elucidated the ways in which people construct cognitive categories and link those categories to stereotyped beliefs. In the midst of this growth, the stigma concept has been criticized as being too vaguely defined and individually focused. In response to these criticisms, we define stigma as the co-occurrence of its components-labeling, stereotyping, separation, status loss, and discrimination-and further indicate that for stigmatization to occur, power must be exercised. The stigma concept we construct has implications for understanding several core issues in stigma research, ranging from the definition of the concept to the reasons stigma sometimes represents a very persistent predicament in the lives of persons affected by it. Finally, because there are so many stigmatized circumstances and because stigmatizing processes can affect multiple domains of people's lives, stigmatization probably has a dramatic bearing on the distribution of life chances in such areas as earnings, housing, criminal involvement, health, and life itself. It follows that social scientists who are interested in understanding the distribution of such life chances should also be interested in stigma.