How and why do men in law suffer from ‘flexism’?
Men are twice as likely to have requests to work flexibly denied, making it much harder for the legal profession to combat traditional workplace structures and gender roles.
Speaking last week on The Lawyers Weekly Show, Hall & Wilcox partner Fay Calderone discussed the scourge of “flexism” in professional services and outlined the idiosyncratic issues faced by both men and women on this front.
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Flexism, she explained, is a term that’s been developed “to label what is adverse action or repercussions taken against people for accessing flexible work benefits”, predominantly flexible work benefits that are accessed for carer’s responsibilities or to care for children or family.
She believes it is a control issue, she mused.
“It is a trust issue and there’s a fear about adverse consequences for productivity, the accessibility to employees, the ability to look over their shoulders and supervise. All the data and from the research we know in relation to what motivates people, what engages people, what retains people, and what leads to more productive workforce [are] in fact precisely the opposite: autonomy,” Ms Calderone said.
For men, this scepticism about flexible work is particularly troublesome, given that research from Bain & Company and other sources show that “men are twice as likely to have a request for flexible work denied.
“It may be a perception issue that they’re not entitled to it, or antiquated views in relation to who should be caring for children, because these are requests predominantly that are made to accommodate carer responsibilities. So, they are twice as likely to have the request denied,” she outlined.
“Even if the request is granted, research by the Australian Human Rights Commission has confirmed that 27 per cent of those that are granted the request are likely to be discriminated against or face an adverse consequence.
“That could be a negative consequence for example in relation to a restructure that the men that [are] accessing the flexible work benefits and running off to pick up the kids if they’re sick [are the ones that end] up in the redundancy situation or whose [positions are] made redundant or a failure to provide them adequate promotional opportunities when they arise.”
It would therefore be fair to presume, Ms Calderone agreed, that divergence from a socially constructed traditional vocational path would be perceived either as weakness or that a male lawyer is not as committed to the workplace as he should be.
“They’re extraordinary and terribly unfair, but I think they’re accurate. Sadly. When we talk about the general statistics, I think it’s safe to assume that in the law it’s probably even worse. Keep thinking that those general statistics include men in say what we call ‘pink professions’, like caring professions, teachers, nurses, counselors,” she said.
The irony, Ms Calderone said, is that there are high rates of depression in the general population in men, “and particularly in our profession, and work pressures adversely affect men and place a considerable amount of stress on them that contribute to these issues”.
Flexible work, she said, should be part of that solution.
Next week, Lawyers Weekly will publish a follow-up story detailing how best male lawyers can navigate real or perceived flexism, as well as what the profession can do to address it.
To listen to Jerome’s full conversation with Fay Calderone, click below: