Part time working as a gendered sub-culture in SET: A cross cultural study

Herman, Clem; Lewis, Suzan and Humbert, Anne (2009). Part time working as a gendered sub-culture in SET: A cross cultural study. In: Equal Opportunities International Conference, 15-17 Jul 2009, Istanbul.



Most major SET companies now offer a range of work-life balance policies and measures including options for flexible working or reduced hours. However these operate within a culture where a full time unbroken career is still considered the norm. Work life balance policies such as these can have the unintended consequence of reinforcing gender stereotyping within the workplace if it is only mothers/ female carers who make use of these and not fathers or male carers. This is closely tied to wider assumptions about gender roles within the domestic sphere.
Drawing on 61 in depth interviews carried out with engineers and scientists (10 men and 51 women) across 6 European countries (UK, Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, Estonia), this paper looks at the implications of part time working for women SET professionals. The interviews focused on both individual factors including biography and life course issues and experiences of career breaks as well as organisational and wider contextual factors including aspects of workplace culture and working practices and the impact of national social policies and norms.
An important aspect of organisational culture relates to deeply entrenched assumptions about men and women, and ideal workers, in SET and other employment sectors, which undermine work-life policies. Both national and workplace policies developed ostensibly to support the reconciliation of work and family are double edged, helping parents (predominantly mothers) to sustain a career, but at a cost, within gendered organisations. We suggest that part time workers within SET companies operate within a sub-culture that has little impact on the overall organisational norms. A few exceptions exist of women who have succeeded in progressing despite periods of part time working, but their use as ‘role models’ within companies often obscures the difficulties and obstacles that the rest of part time women face. There is a widespread implementation gap between policy and actual practice across European SET companies. Despite a commitment to flexibility and “work-life balance”, the gendered construction of the ideal worker and ideas of competence conflated with hegemonic masculinity, remain powerful. This, together with a prevalent ‘good mother’ ideology, undermines both gender equity and workplace effectiveness

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