‘Leaning In’ Is Not A Custom-Fit For Working Mothers Finds A New Study

April 23, 2013  |  

The “lean in” discussion has gone into overdrive. Among the countless debates about whether “leaning in” is a good thing is whether or not it can apply to African-American women (our take) and other female sub-groups. A new study actually says “leaning in” isn’t always the answer for female executives with children.

Research released this month on women in “men’s jobs” in the journal Gender & Society found that “leaning in” is not the same for everyone. And that working overtime to compete with the big boys just doesn’t cut it for every woman.

According to a press release, it confirms that “overwork,” which is defined as working more than 50 hours per week, has become the norm for many Americans, but it has different affects on men and women.

“Over the past thirty years, hours at work—especially in higher income jobs—have increased, and over one-third of men and nearly one-fifth of women in professions work more than a 50-hour week,” found Gender & Society. The report theorized that overwork contributes to the “stalled gender revolution,” resulting in a lack of equality in the workplace. This goes contrary to the “lean in” campaign that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has launched, which is focused on the idea that hard-working women will get equal pay and opportunities.

In “Overwork and the Persistence of Gender Segregation in Occupations,” Indiana University sociologist Youngjoo Cha writes that overwork affects men and women differently—especially in fields where there are a lot more men than women to begin with.

According to Dr. Cha, working mothers were 52 percent more likely than other women to leave their jobs if they were working a 50-hour week or more, but only in occupations dominated by men. But Dr. Cha did find that higher education levels make it more likely that women will stay in their jobs. However, they won’t stick around long enough to overcome the discouraging effects of being an overworked mother.

On the other hand, men (fathers or not) and women without children were not more likely to leave their jobs in overworked fields.

The workload hits mothers because, notes Dr. Cha, women continue to have a larger share of the caregiving responsibilities. “Overwork disadvantages women with children in particular. In overworking workplaces, you have to be there or be on call all the time. That expectation can be met by people who have few care giving or community responsibilities and who are not primary caregivers at home,” said Dr. Cha in the report.

Male-dominated professions are more likely to maintain inflexible expectations of overwork, found Dr. Cha. “In my study, not all women with children leave the labor force. When they work long hours, it is the combination of being a mother, working long hours, and being in a male dominated profession that is discouraging,” says Dr. Cha.

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