Monday, December 14, 2009

Using your benefits may hurt your career

Of the many items on the average working mom's workplace wish list, a flexible schedule, on-site or subsidized day care, and paid sick leave are probably the most coveted. But a new study by the Academy of Management Journal suggests that some women are being penalized for using their companies' family-friendly perks.

“Women who take advantage of programs like on-site child care or flextime or paid time off for parenting are only undermining their prospects for advancement,” the study’s lead author, Jenny Hoobler, said in a news release.

In her report Hoobler, an assistant professor of managerial studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago, found that managers perceived their female employees as having a greater degree of work-life balance conflict "even though female employees actually reported slightly less family-work conflict than their male counterparts." The perceptional bias was the same regardless of whether the boss was male or female, and the researchers posit that the managers may not even be aware that they're hewing to cultural stereotypes about women being the primary caregivers at home.

If that doesn't make things difficult enough, this past summer, researchers found that working moms face a pay gap compared to their non-parent peers. Again, it had to do with perception: women who identified themselves as mothers were consistently rated as less competent and less committed to their jobs than non-mothers, while men who identified as fathers were rated more positively than non-fathers.

Nataly had a great post recently, asking if parents get special treatment at work and saying that she tries hard not to demand any for herself. But I think there's a huge difference between letting your colleagues pick up your slack and taking advantage of supports that your company offers -- benefits that were put in place to make work-life balance easier and, in some cases, to woo working mothers into the building to begin with.

Take telecommuting, for example. My company doesn't encourage it, but I was able to get clearance to work from home once a week in exchange for taking on a project that's not part of my job description. I'm uber productive when I'm not in the office, but still... I worry that my coworkers think I'm slacking off. (In reality, most people are more productive when working from home than they are at the office. As blogger Tony Wright points out in his experiment at The Rescue Time Blog, "we felt like we weren’t working as hard, but were actually logging about 22% more development and design hours.) Which makes me wonder: If we feel like we're slacking for taking advantage of flex time, how can we expect our bosses to see it any other way?

One of my readers at The 36-Hour Day made a great point. She wrote: "I know that if my partners are considerate of my needs, I’ll give 120% instead of the required 110%. But if they make it hard for me, it’s not going to translate into longer evening hours, right?"

Does your company offer any ways to make it easier for you to juggle work and life? Are you hesitant about using them?

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