Work-Family Interference in Urban China: Gender Discrimination and the Effects of Work-Family Balance Policies

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The traditional stereotype in Chinese society often portrays women as primarily responsible for family and household duties, while men are expected to focus on their careers. This deeply ingrained belief has been perpetuated through generations and continues to shape societal expectations of gender roles. As a result, women often face significant challenges balancing work and family responsibilities, particularly when these obligations conflict. In the workplace, this stereotype can lead to unequal treatment, with women are often paid less at the same positions and are less likely to be promoted. At home, women may be expected to prioritize their domestic duties over their careers. Such stereotype is generally known as “family responsibility discrimination”. The persistence of this stereotype is detrimental to gender equality and reinforces the gender norms that hinder women’s professional advancement. But, is this the whole story?

 

Interestingly, the study by Professor Yuehua Xu and colleagues finds that shouldering family responsibility in the contexts of both family interference in work and work interference in family would stimulate more discrimination against men than women in urban China. They conducted four main experiments from late November 2021 to early June 2022 with a total of 2577 participants from urban China. They suggested that, although the literature has predominantly focused on discrimination against women, theoretically, both women and men can be discriminated against in gender-incongruent domains. They adopt the social role theory to propose that, because traditional gender role beliefs, such as that men should be breadwinners and women caregivers, still prevail in urban China, men would be more discriminated against when holding more housework and childcaring tasks as it is incongruent with gender expectations.

 

Consistent with this view, their research finds that in urban China discrimination against men involved in family interference in work is higher than against their female counterparts. More importantly, their research shows that in urban China discrimination against men involved in work interference in family is higher than that against females. This result may be a bit counterintuitive, but it provides us with deeper insights about gender discrimination under work–family interference in urban China. Male workers are expected to focus on their work rather than being distracted by family responsibilities. It is consistent with the traditional gender role beliefs that women are expected to bear more family responsibilities, and men are expected to bear more work responsibilities.

 

Their study also explores whether a firm’s work–family balance policy can mitigate such discrimination. These policies aim to create a more supportive and inclusive work environment for employees with family responsibilities and promote equality and help employees manage the demands of both their professional and personal lives, regardless of their gender. By implementing measures such as flexible working hours, parental leave provisions, and child care support, among others, firms can help foster a culture of work-family balance and equality. The results of their study demonstrate that such policies mitigate supervisors’ discrimination against men involved in family interference in work but not observers’ discrimination against men involved in work interference in family.

The implementation of such policies has been shown to have numerous benefits, including increased job satisfaction, improved employee retention, and enhanced productivity. Moreover, these policies can also help reduce gender-based discrimination in the workplace by providing equal opportunities and support for all employees, regardless of their gender or family situation.

It is important for firms to recognize the importance of work-family balance policies and take proactive steps to implement them effectively. This not only benefits individual employees but also contributes to a positive and inclusive organizational culture that attracts and retains top talent.

 

Their findings provide valuable insights. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that women are more likely than men to face discrimination, they find that shouldering family responsibilities would stimulate more discrimination against men. Further, unlike prior research that has focused on the varying degrees of discrimination when people violate traditional gender stereotype, their findings suggest that in China, people’s expectations around division of family responsibilities are changing. While gender discrimination in Western contexts has been discussed widely, their research suggests that gender discrimination in non-Western contexts can be very different.

 

According to these results, companies can consider tactics for mitigating workplace gender discrimination. The implementation of such policies has been shown to have numerous benefits, including increased job satisfaction, improved employee retention, and enhanced productivity. Moreover, these policies can also help reduce gender-based discrimination in the workplace by providing equal opportunities and support for all employees, regardless of their gender or family situation. It is important for firms to recognize the importance of work-family balance policies and take proactive steps to implement them effectively. This not only benefits individual employees but also contributes to a positive and inclusive organizational culture that attracts and retains top talent. However, it should be noted that, the commonly used work-family accommodations, such as flexible work arrangements, might create a “flexibility stigma” for females who use such policies. Thus companies should develop a work–family balance policy package that can play a positive role in fending off discrimination against both male and female workers, and further enhance work-family accommodation.https://www.nature.com/articles/s42949-023-00137-6

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Social Work
Humanities and Social Sciences > Society > Social Work
Psychology of Gender and Sexuality
Humanities and Social Sciences > Behavioral Sciences and Psychology > Personality and Differential Psychology > Psychology of Gender and Sexuality
Social Work and Gender
Humanities and Social Sciences > Society > Social Work > Social Work Consulting > Social Work and Gender

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