Water is wet.
My research revealed that men were just as likely as women to have trouble with these “always on” expectations. However, men often coped with these demands in ways that differed strikingly. Women who had trouble with the work hours tended to simply to take formal accommodations, reducing their work hours, but also revealing their inability to be true ideal workers, and they were consequently marginalized within the firm.
In contrast, many men found unobtrusive, under-the-radar ways to alter the structure of their work (such as cultivating mostly local clients, or building alliances with other colleagues), such that they could work predictable schedules in the 50 to 60 hour range. In doing so, they were able to work far less than those who fully devoted themselves to work, and had greater control over when and where those hours were worked, yet were able to “pass” as ideal workers, evading penalties for their noncompliance.
Reid called this “passing”: the ability to make people think you’re a workaholic without actually being one. But — and this may shock you so please brace yourselves — men had an easier time doing it than women. Reid attributed this to the fact that “women’s work time may be under greater scrutiny than men’s.” But it was also a matter of gendered expectations about how men and women use their time. Based on interviews Reid conducted, she found that people at the firm seemed to assume that women who left the office by five were going home to their kids whereas they were more likely to assume that men doing the same thing were heading out to meet a client.
And it’s because of this kind of bias that “passing” makes for a poor strategy to fix the problems faced by many working parents, particularly women. Though the deception may help some men, it leaves in place institutional structures and organizational priorities that value hours clocked over actual work accomplished.
It also leaves unchallenged the assumption making family a priority — cutting out early to make it home in time for dinner, missing a meeting to take a sick relative to the doctor — means that you lack commitment to your work.
Reid also found that the idea that more hours equals better work is so entrenched that when she presented her findings to the firm, the response was that women should be coached on how to “pass” rather than reassess company policies so that they wouldn’t have to in the first place. In this case, the firm felt that encouraging workers to lie made more sense than setting realistic expectations around workload and hours on the clock.
The study is small and limited to one firm. While the research may not be nationally representative, it raises some interesting questions about how the appearance of productivity is very different than actual productivity, and how those appearances are marked by gender.
It’s also a reminder that gendered expectations can distort reality. If you assume men work harder than women, then that’s probably how you’ll interpret what’s going on around you — even if the opposite is true.