Male Executives: Work/Life Balance Is a Women’s Issue

By Aliah D. Wright Apr 4, 2014

It may not be a man’s world anymore, but when it comes to work/life balance, male executives still view fam​ily conflict as a problem that should be handled by women, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.

The sentiment matches findings reported last year by researchers at the City University of New York and Manhattan College, which revealed that supervisors’ perceptions of who requires work/life balance are often based on gender stereotypes. About 57 percent of organizations now offer flexible work arrangements, according to the 2013 State of Employee Benefits in the Workplace—Flexible Work Arrangements study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Harvard Business School professor Boris Groysberg and research associate Robin Abrahams assessed interviews of close to 4,000 C-suite executives worldwide conducted by Harvard Business School students between 2008 and 2013.

About 56 percent of those interviewed were male. Although male and female interviewees had the same job title, that’s where the similarities ceased.

According to the Harvard study, men decided to continue working when faced with family issues because they saw themselves as the family breadwinner. Women, on the other hand, felt guilty if they didn’t spend more time dealing with family conflicts. Women also felt bad if they missed important moments in their children’s development.

The researchers write, “Several male executives who admitted to spending inadequate time with their families consider absence an acceptable price for providing their children with opportunities they themselves never had.”

What’s more, the study’s authors reveal, men turn to their spouses for “practical help” with family issues while women pay others for assistance.

“Fully 88 percent of the men are married, compared with 70 percent of the women,” the authors write. “And 60 percent of the men have spouses who don’t work full-time outside the home, compared with only 10 percent of the women. The men have an average of 2.22 children; the women, 1.67.”

According to the study, men and women also define personal and professional success differently. For example, 12 percent of men linked personal success to financial success, but none—zero percent—of women did. About 14 percent of men defined professional success as enjoying work on a daily basis vs. 8 percent of women.

As SHRM reported in 2013, “separate SHRM studies have shown that many workers rate ‘the balance of work/life issues’ as an integral factor in job satisfaction, and flexible work arrangements can offer a cost-effective means of delivering that balance.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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