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Tag Archives: Redesigning Redefining Work Summit

by Julie A. Kmec, Lindsey T. O’Connor, and Scott Schieman

President Obama’s State of the Union address last month recognized that working women—and men—should not face hardship for taking care of their family responsibilities.Recent research by sociologists,Julie A. Kmec, Lindsey Trimble O’Connor and Scott Schieman suggests that workplaces have a long way to go before realizing the President’s message.  In new research, they find that working mothers perceive penalties—like feeling ignored and that they are given the worst tasks—when they adjust their work schedules after having children.  They suggest that policies and practices that challenge societal assumptions about ideal work are a good starting place in attempts to realize President Obama’s call to give working parents a “break.”

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social-mediaWe–fellow Work in Progress Blogger Adia Harvey Wingfield and I–recently attended a summit centered on Redesigning and Redefining Work. This summit, organized by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, had lofty goals:  to join academic researchers, government policy makers, members of the media, and company representatives to discuss, among other things, new ways to redesign the world of work so that workplaces can better align—for the long term—with the composition and needs of today’s workforce while at the same time allowing workers and businesses to flourish.

The summit focused, among other things, on how flexible work arrangements have the potential to change work environments in ways that produce greater gender equality. Presenters from corporate and academic sectors considered the ways that these programs have been implemented, barriers to implementation, successes, challenges, and benefits.  The program offered a number of different perspectives on ways that flexible work arrangements can have multiple, expected, and possibly surprising benefits for workers and for corporations.

We wanted to share our personal observations of the summit, whose agenda can be found here, because we feel that sociologists of work should be keyed into the discussion of redesign.  We also think the public should be aware of—and join in via commenting here—work redesign discussions happening in academic, workplace, and policy circles.

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by Erin L. Kelly and Phyllis Moen

Overworked? Overwhelmed? You’re not alone. Seventy percent of employed Americans say work interferes with their non-work lives. Over half feel they don’t have enough time with their children or spouses. This isn’t just one group: it’s mothers, fathers, married workers, singles, Boomers, GenXers and Millennials.

“Work-life balance” has been discussed for 40 years and many companies have tried to address the issue. Seventy-seven percent of workplaces with more than 50 employees allow some employees to change their schedules and 63% allow some regular work to be done at home. Unfortunately, flextime, telecommuting and shifting to part-time hours are usually provided as “accommodations” to help a few employees.

The root problem, of course, isn’t that employees have family or personal commitments. The root problem is the rigid conventions of work that assume work must occur at certain times and places and that mistakenly gauge productivity by the number of hours spent at work.

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by Joan Williams

A recent article in Slate (based on an article in the Guardian) reports that many young Japanese have lost interest in sex. The Japan Family Planning Association found that 45 percent of women aged 16-24, and 25 percent of the men, “were not interested in or despised sexual contact.” A 2011 survey found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in a romantic relationship. A third of Japanese under 30, according to another study, have never dated at all.

What’s the turnoff? Traditional gender roles. “Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family,” the Guardian journalist Abigail Haworth writes, “while children are unaffordable unless both parents work.” Nearly 70 percent of Japanese women quit their jobs after their first child, forced out by long hours and hostility toward working mothers, not-so-affectionately called oniyome (“devil wives”).

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by Robin J. Ely and Irene Padavic

Flexible work arrangements are widely championed as remedies for the dearth of women in senior leadership positions. Women “opt-out” when the demands of work and family conflict, so letting them telecommute or work part time facilitates work-life balance, allowing them to stay on the career track. Or so the narrative goes.

In reality, the success of these “family-friendly” policies has been uneven. They are often underused — and for good reason. Research shows that employees who take advantage of “flex” policies are typically removed from the fast track, derailing their career progress. Moreover, these programs have not increased the number of women in senior leadership roles.

Perhaps this is because they do not solve the right problem.

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by Lindsey Trimble O’Connor and Christin L. Munsch

AMC’s hit show Mad Men has received widespread critical acclaim, in part, for its depiction of changing social mores surrounding gender, work, and family. Set in the 1960s, three-martini lunches, overt sexual harassment and stay-at-home wives are the norm. The workplace sure has changed … or has it?

Workplace norms of yesterday were based on a gendered division of labor in which men were breadwinners and women were caretakers. Because women took responsibility for the domestic realm, men could work full-time, without interruption, throughout their lives. With few — if any — disruptions from family life, men were able to put in long hours, on-site, day in and day out. Although these norms were sometimes demanding, workers who complied with them could expect to climb the corporate ladder.

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