Patterns of paid employment and domestic/care work in Australia are typically divided according to gender. Women often combine paid employment with domestic/care tasks, while men engage in paid employment and tend not to use flexible work arrangements.
While flexible work has helped facilitate women’s presence in paid employment, workplace gender equality relies on men using flexible work, to prevent flexible work from being devalued and feminised (Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2018).
Workplace policies are increasingly presented in gender-neutral terms, theoretically providing access to all employees. There is also increasing evidence suggesting that men would like to use flexible work arrangements and spend more time with their families (McCurdy 2015).
Despite the removal of barriers to men’s flexible work, and men reporting a desire to use flexible work, there are continued gender differences and underuse of flexible work by men.
Organisational leaders are a crucial element in the provision and use of flexible work, both in terms of setting policy and workplace culture (Borgkvist et al. 2021), and are therefore the focus of this study. Interviews were conducted with 12 leaders of various public sector departments and private companies, including large multi-national companies. Qualitative analysis was undertaken, using thematic discourse analysis and Cooper Stoll’s (2013) theory of gender-blind sexism.
Participants frequently avoided talking about gender when being interviewed, despite being aware they were participating in research about men’s flexible work. This seeming reluctance led the researchers to question how gender was attended to and managed in discussions of flexible work.
It was found that participants attended to gender in particular ways, often conforming to the style and frames of gender-blind sexism. Two broad themes were developed from the data, with participants avoiding talking about men, or discussing men and women with regard to traditional gender roles.
Both themes are supported by the theory of gender-blind sexism. The data also supported a suggestion for an expanded concept of gender-blind sexism that incorporates a novel finding of emphasising gender.
Gender-blind sexism contributes to current understandings of subtle sexism and explanations of gender inequality, particularly in situations claiming to be gender-neutral, such as modern organisations. Leaders’ discussions of men’s flexible work have the potential to perpetuate workplace cultures where men are not visible as flexible workers and where gendered patterns of work and care are reinforced.
Borgkvist A, Moore V, Crabb S and Eliott J (2021) ‘Critical considerations of workplace flexibility ‘for all’ and gendered outcomes: men being flexible about their flexibility’, Gender, Work & Organization, 28(6): 2076–2090.
Breekveldt N (2015) ‘Samone McCurdy – ’You did what?’: taking the Daddy Track’, Career interrupted: how 14 successful women navigate career breaks, Melbourne Books, Melbourne.
Cooper Stoll, L (2013) Race and gender in the classroom: teachers, privilege, and enduring social inequalities, Lexington Books, Plymouth.
Workplace Gender Equality Agency (n.d.) Flexible work, WGEA website, accessed 13 October 2022.
- Marianne H. Clausen, the University of Adelaide
- Amanda LeCouteur, the University of Adelaide
- Shona Crabb, the University of Adelaide
- Anna Chur-Hansen, the University of Adelaide
- Niki Vincent, Victorian Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector