What do “ideal workers” look like today? How many hours do they work, where do they work, and does their work take priority over other areas of life, like family and leisure? New research explores the history of gender differences in work and points to a more equal—and genuinely ideal—future of work for all.
In episode 5 of the second season of The “New Normal” podcast series, PhD Candidate Alyson Gounden Rock from the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University joins journalist Dave Kaufman to discuss gender inequality in the world of work, how the study of work and gender affects opportunities for women, and how the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a shift in workplace norms and pave the way towards gender equality.
“We still have a sense that an ideal worker is someone who is available 24/7 and is someone who is particularly committed to the organization,” says Gounden Rock. “One of the expectations that we have of workers is that they will be available in certain temporal windows, 9:00 to 5:00 particularly, which makes it very difficult for many workers to fit that norm.”
Gounden Rock’s research looks at the past 50 years of careers studies and work-family studies, building on the ground-breaking work of Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter. “When women try to succeed at work, they’re already contravening the gender norm we expect of them, of being soft and calming and nice, and that’s why you hear about backlash for being not nice enough,” says Gounden Rock. “Whereas men who cross over to caregiving are contravening breadwinning norms, with those men being seen as ‘not man enough.’ What we’ve seen in the history of work is that men tend to hide it when they deviate in that way.”
Gounden Rock points out that after almost three years of experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on work, both employers’ and employees’ underlying stigma around working from home is lifting: “We have this situation where particularly for men, many men think that they would like to work from home, but they assume that other men don’t condone that.”
“COVID has the potential to de-stigmatize this practice by making people’s private practice and thoughts about work from home more visible,” she continues. “So when you see some successful guy and a crying baby sitting on their lap, it makes it more clear to you that, oh, your colleagues are also doing this. That will be the thing that could come out of COVID to de-stigmatize work from home. That will be very good for the people who have always been stigmatized for it: the main caregivers, who are women.”
Looking forward 50 years, she sees the COVID-19 pandemic as a seminal moment in history: “COVID has changed everything. It’s changed the way we work.”
Currently, views on working from home versus working outside the home average out to a preference for two days at home out of five—some experts think this will probably be adopted as a norm in the near future. “Because the labor market is so tight at the moment, what employers are finding is that if they don’t offer a two in five [work week] then they’re not going to be able to hire the workforces that they need to be successful,” says Gounden Rock.
For more insights, listen to the full interview with Alyson Gounden Rock on the Delve podcast.
Delve’s The “New Normal” podcast series is a collaboration between journalist Dave Kaufman and Delve, the official thought leadership platform of McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management. The “New Normal” is produced by Delve and Dave Kaufman, with audio engineering by David Rawalia. Each episode looks in-depth at a different aspect of the new normal that we are all navigating due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Original music by Saku Mantere.
Dave Kaufman is a Montreal-based journalist and commentator. He has worked for CJAD 800 and TSN 690 Radio in Montreal, CTV News Channel, CTV Montreal, and TalkRadio and SkyNews in the United Kingdom. He has written for the National Post, Montreal Gazette, and Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @TheKaufmanShow.