Since most 9-to-5s are now more like 8-to-6s, work can make it difficult to score face time with your family. And while more companies are supporting efforts for work-life balance, they are still more encouraging of professional pops, according to a new study from Furman University. Researcher Christin Munsch looked at the reaction both men and women got when asking for flexible work hours so they could take care of their kids, and she found that men’s requests were not only more likely to be approved, but they were also viewed more favorably than women who made the exact same proposal.
When petitioning to work from home two days a week or to work non-traditional hours, men were eight times more likely to be viewed as likeable after the request, while women were found to be much less committed than their male counterparts.
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If a mom and dad are making the same case, how does he come off as more likeable, while she is worse off? "Today, we think of women's responsibilities as including paid labor and domestic obligations, but we still regard breadwinning as men's primary responsibility and we feel grateful if men contribute in the realm of childcare," explains Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at Furman University.
But with more working parents sharing the childcare load, it’s more likely that women will need to ask for flexible hours more often than ever before. The good news? Munsch’s study also found that both men and women who requested flexible work to take care of a child were seen as more respectable, likable, committed, and worthy of a promotion than others who requested flextime for non-parental reasons (like to reduce commute time).
But while you can mention your childcare situation when asking to telecommute a few days a week, you shouldn’t focus on it, warns says Connecticut-based women’s career coach Kathy Caorino. “There is still backlash in the corporate world for women who are seen to be on the ‘mommy track’,” she says. Instead, approach your boss with a concrete, unemotional, and well-developed proposal focused on how your flexible hours will benefit them.
Here’s how to handle it: Do exhaustive research before your meeting. Look into if flextime is being given to other employees, and if so, how it’s perceived, how it’s working, and at what level it’s being offered most. If you’re the first to telecommute you’ll, be prepared: It will be harder because employers often don’t want to set a precedent they can’t back out of, Caorino explains. Present a plan that covers how this arrangement will work for your specific role, the positive outcomes it will generate, and how it supports the mission and vision of the company. Caorino suggests offering a three-month trial period, with goals that can be evaluated at the end. And highlight your strengths: A 2012 Harvard Business Review survey found that employees rated female bosses to be better leaders overall, especially when it came to building relationships, taking initiative, and driving for results—all strengths that translate when working remotely.
There are so many factors that contribute to how women are perceived and judged in the workplace, Caorino says. But making a clear case as to why you’re valuable to the organization and how this arrangement will benefit them increases your chances of the professional parent’s dream: actually balancing work and life.