bBefore Kate welcomes a new baby in 2022, she sat down with the HR department at her workplace to discuss expectations regarding communication with her temporary replacement during maternity leave. Instead of a clear plan or guidelines, she only got vague advice about doing what she was comfortable with.
As researchers who study gender in the workplace and the economics of the family, we see interesting questions in this all-too-common experience: How exactly is there a lack of guidance in the workplace? Do new parents decide the gender gap is a fair amount of work? And perhaps most importantly, what are the implications of this decision for parents returning to the workplace after childbirth?
For new parents wondering how accessible they should be during leave, US labor law doesn’t provide a clear answer. as seen in This 2009 federal court decision From the State of New York, maintaining “occasional” contact with work to answer questions and “provide institutional knowledge” while on leave is a “professional courtesy” that applies to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and subsequent rulings. does not violate ( like Tilley v. County of Kalamazoo, 2016) endorsed it—with the caveat that “perhaps, in some circumstances, the demand from an employer to complete multiple phone calls and more than simple tasks may rise to a level” becomes unreasonable. This ambiguity (how much contact is too much contact? How much work qualifies as a professional courtesy? What qualifies as a simple act?) may help new parents to define their roles with friends or at work. Lets look for the norms of. The problem with relying on informal interactions with coworkers is that these personal opinions and workplace norms reflect a bias that can perpetuate (and exacerbate) gender inequalities at work.
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our research has shown that there is a substantial difference in the amount of work men and women must complete during parental leave. Men intend to spend more time on parental leave than women on responsibilities related to their current job and on strengthening their resumes in other ways. These significant gender differences in expectations for leave are not only found among older adults who have already been exposed to workplace culture – we found the same results when we asked college students to imagine what they would do if they If parental leave is granted in future, how will they spend their time? Jobs.
What this means for the actual experience of parental leave for men and women – with women devoting more time to childcare and men devoting more time to work-related tasks – in time use This gender gap affects the resumes of men and women. Look after your time away from work. For example, we found that men were significantly more likely to report intent to take on additional work, seek new employment, learn new skills, and explore new business ideas. If men are spending more time building their credentials and resumes during parental leave, parental leave could be extended increases Instead of gender inequality shrinking while women return from leave with a relative loss in their accumulated workplace experiences and job-related skills, research suggests that men may return from parental leave with better resumes when He started.
A separate issue with ambiguity regarding work during parental leave is the effect of working – or not – on how employees are appraised and how committed they are viewed when they return. Companies often do not have specific guidelines as to the number of calls or contacts allowed per week, or clear expectations for the number of hours per week on projects that can continue while an employee is on leave. This hazy and non-standardized approach creates ambiguity about expectations, and several studies showed that when employees are evaluated based on standards that are not highly structured, bias creeps in. In these cases the assessment is more likely to be based on stereotypes and gut feelings, and as a result, men and women are judged differently. equal treatment.
To test how this affected parents returning from holiday, we conducted a experimental study To examine how working during the holiday affects male and female employees’ perceptions of factors including performance appraisals, recommendations for promotions or pay raises, and organizational commitment. In our study, we asked 255 working adults to read a performance review of a male or female worker taking parental leave. The jobs and performance reviews of these new parents were identical except for the gender of the employee described and the final paragraph, which stated that the new parent would either be available during leave when needed (such as calling contacts before an important meeting). and checking email daily) and work on work-related projects (such as completing additional training, earning certification, and updating your resume), or did not do these tasks while on vacation.
Male targets were consistently punished, compared to males who did not take parental leave. No Completing work-related tasks during parental leave factored into their performance evaluations, recommendations for organizational rewards, and judgments of their agency and organizational commitment, but were not rewarded when they did so. For the female worker, we found the opposite result: she was important Rewarded Relative to a woman who did not take leave to complete work-related tasks while on leave, there was no penalty in her rating for not completing work-related tasks during leave. Men were essentially expected to work while on parental leave, while women who continued to work were seen as going above and beyond. A woman who did not check in at work during her parental leave was rated as positively as if she had not been on leave.
Interestingly, when participants in the same study were asked about their explicit expectations of new mothers or fathers completing tasks during parental leave, they reported different expectations for men and women. Not informed. most people wouldn’t seriously argue that men Needed Work more than women during vacation. They just implicitly hope that they will—and judge them if they don’t.
In fact, the response to a similar situation with Pete Buttigieg mirrors the findings of this study. When Pete Buttigieg took parental leave after the birth of his twins in 2021, the discussion was not just about whether he should have taken the leave, but about how absent It was during that vacation. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton on October 11, 2021 Tweeted “Pete Buttigieg was totally unfit to serve as Secretary of Transportation … Now, Pete is absent during a transportation crisis that is hurting working-class Americans.” Pete Buttigieg responded to these criticisms with a justification for his continued involvement despite his retirement. one in new York Times Interview, he explained that he “continued to delegate responsibilities or log on remotely for high-priority work while on vacation.” The norms of men staying connected during parental leave are reinforced through stories like these.
Ambiguity about what employers can expect and do from their employees while on parental leave leads to unfair consequences for both male and female employees. The advice for a more equitable approach is clear: Reduce ambiguity and gendered expectations about what employees should accomplish during leave by providing concrete guidelines for employees and supervisors. The minimum or maximum number of expected emails and phone calls per week must be specified. Estimated participation in ongoing projects should be limited and clear. Contacts outside the company on work-related topics should be documented.
Addressing the other issue – the differential use of parental leave time – is more difficult. In general, research shows that men are more likely to use their flexible hours. leisure or professional networking, while women are more likely to use it for household and child care activities. As most fathers in the US take parental leave as spouses, caregiving responsibilities during parental leave in heterosexual relationships fall primarily on mothers. policies that encourage mothers to return to full-time work while fathers are on parental leave (such as the non-transferable father’s quota, introduced in Norway in 1993, Sweden in 1995 and Iceland in 2001), As a result of which males spend more of their parents. leave time independent child care, So these policies can help address this imbalance in the use of parental leave time.
Companies can consider increasing profits even further Time To Service, such as subsidizing domestic labor or childcare. in one Analysis Cross-country differences in the maternity wage penalty, the availability of childcare for children under the age of three, was found to be a strong predictor of women’s per-child wage penalty, across different policy contexts. These changes may begin to eliminate some of the existing gender differences and norms in the use of parental leave.
Creating policies that actually promote greater gender equality is a difficult task. But making expectations transparent and taking account of how men and women actually use family-related benefits would go a long way toward making expectations and policies more standardized and equitable for new parents. Can
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