Need a Vacation? If You’re a Woman, Good Luck Getting Flex Time

Written by Amelia Rosch

Want to leave work a little early on Friday in order to go on a family vacation? Well, if you are a woman, especially a single woman without children, getting flextime at work may be very difficult.

Two new studies conducted by a Yale researcher have found that women are less likely than men to get their requests for flexible work schedules approved. One study looked at how managers in a gender-neutral profession, such as pharmacists, dealt with requests for compressed work schedules. It found that both men and women managers were more likely to grant such requests by men. According to the researchers, this occurs because managers tend to respect men more than women and are thus more likely to grant their requests.

According to the study’s main author, Victoria L. Brescoll, the findings arise from the belief that the best workers only care about their work—and, therefore, those who want flexible work schedules have not made work their top priority. She said, “We [as a society] see a good worker as a fully devoted worker, somebody who is putting in a lot of face time, no matter what the cost is to themselves.”

The second study, also by Brescoll, found that women tend to overestimate the likelihood of being granted flextime. Then, when women who need more flexible schedules because they are raising families are denied their requests, it reinforces the idea that they have to choose between work and family. As a result, they may switch to a less intense or part-time job, preventing them from reaching true gender equity. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to underestimate the likeliness of being approved for a flexible work schedule because they’re afraid their bosess might judge them harshly for asking.

Joan C. Williams, the director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, said that gender-based stereotypes are probably responsible for the second study’s findings:

For women, it’s the fear of triggering the strongest form of gender bias against women—[the] maternal wall. And for men, there’s fear of triggering a stigma on the grounds they’re too feminine. So both forms of stigma are driven by gender bias, which means that allowing the flexibility stigma to affect people’s careers is a potential violation of federal anti-discrimination law.

While the two studies found that women across the board are denied flexible work schedules, one group of women face schedule-based discrimination at a higher rate: single, childless women. A 2011 survey found that 61 percent of working women without children believe that coworkers (of any gender) with children are given more flexible schedules. And they’re right: A 2012 study found that in the United States, single women work almost 200 hours more a year than married women. In a June 2013 Marie Claire article, women without children from a range of professions, including lawyers and bankers, described being asked to stay late at work or work on the weekends to cover for workers who wanted to spend more time with their children. Margaret Wheeler Johnson, the women’s editor at The Huffington Post, said:

It’s easy to see how single women are especially vulnerable to it. The most popular job for American women as of 2010 is still secretary/administrative assistant, which has been a top ten job for women for the last 50 years. We’re historically conditioned to think of female workers as those who support other workers.

Given that more than three quarters of women workers under the age of 30 and 43 percent of working women between 30 and 50 do not have children, the issue of scheduling discrimination against childless women has a huge significance . As Williams pointed out, denying women flexible work schedules could be considered a form of workplace discrimination; the EEOC says that fringe benefits for one employee, including work schedule flexibility, have to be available to all employees. While it may not be as obvious as sexual harassment or the pay gap, scheduling discrimination plays just as large a role in hurting women in the workplace.

This post was originally published in Ms. Magazine.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jerome S
Jerome S9 months ago


Jim Ven
Jim V9 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G4 years ago


Alicia B.
Alicia B4 years ago

Anyone that compares America to Iran or Saudi Arabia is backwards.

Will Rogers
Will Rogers4 years ago

This is probably the norm in backward countries like America or Iran or Saudi Arabia. If they tried this in the UK/Europe we'd have their balls!

Natasha Salgado
Past Member 4 years ago

Hmmm...all I know is my female working friends all have the same perks as their male counterparts as do I---I guess it varies city to city....thanks

Ulane V.
Ulane V4 years ago


Lyn Smith
Lynelle Romaine4 years ago


Jennifer K.
Jay K4 years ago

Organizations are often stuck in the old school expectation that the employee needs to be physically present for their entire shift and fail to recognize the cost of that expectation. Many roles do not require you to be sitting at a desk and being monitored. Productivity increases when employees are given autonomy and trusted to perform at their highest level. I recognize this is not possible for all roles, however, I look forward to the time when this becomes the norm where it is possible.