Flexible working for all? How collective constructions by Austrian employers and employees perpetuate gendered inequalities
Keywords:part-time work, women's labor participation, career opportunities, gender ideologies, gender equality
Objective: This paper pursues the question as to how extended flexible working possibilities in the labor market are legitimized among employers and employees and whether they have potential to mitigate inequalities.
Background: Persistent and increasing gendered inequalities in Austria are reflected in the unequal division of unpaid family work in parental couples and in men’s stable full-time employment while women increasingly work part-time. In recent years, employers have expanded flexible working possibilities for all employees, regardless of their gender, also in leading positions and especially for those with family responsibilities.
Method: We conducted six focus groups and 16 semi-structured interviews with employers (n=30) and employees (n=25) from 29 contrasting companies across Austria. An in-depth reconstructive analysis facilitated our exploration of collective notions and concepts associated with flexible work and career opportunities.
Results: The respondents constructed part-time and flexible work as a new norm strongly connected to women with (potential) children. At the same time, employers and employees legitimized that these women must be protected from penalties resulting from the ideal worker norm still in force and must be variously supported by employers. However, men – the partners of women they could support by making use of these options and taking over childcare – are not constructed as a target group.
Conclusion: In a cultural context such as Austria, family-friendly flexible working opportunities perpetuate rather than level gendered inequalities, as men’s need for those opportunities do not emerge in the constructions. The lack thereof is neither explicitly addressed nor challenged.
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