For close to thirty years, studies have consistently documented that employees who actually use workplace flexibility statutes often suffer career detriments. In 2009, WorkLife Law formed the Flexibility Stigma Working Group, which ultimately produced a special issue of the Journal of Social Issues, entitled The Flexibility Stigma.

Selected Press Coverage

The Unspoken Stigma of Workplace Flexibility, by Tara Siegel Bernard, The Washington Post, June 14, 2013.

The Daddy Dilemma, by Joan Williams, The Washington Post, February 11, 2013.

The Flexibility Stigma: Work Devotion vs. Family Devotion, by Joan Williams, Mary Blair-Loy and Jennifer Berdahl, Rotman Magazine, Winter 2013

Working Group Members

The members of the Flexibility Stigma Working Group include:

Catherine Albiston
U.C. Berkeley School of Law



Stephen Benard
Indiana University



Jennifer Berdahl
University of Toronto



Mary Blair-Loy
U.C. San Diego



Stephanie Bornstein
U.C. Hastings College of the Law



Victoria Brescoll
Yale School of Management



Emilio Castilla
MIT Sloan School of Management



Youngjoo Cha
Indiana University



Scott Coltrane
University of Oregon



Shelley Correll
Stanford University



Amy Cuddy
Harvard Business School



Lisa Dodson
Boston College



Jennifer Glass
University of Iowa

Peter Glick
Lawrence University



Elizabeth Grossman
U.S. EEOC New York



Paul Holtzman
Krokidas & Bluestein, LLP



Adam Klein
Outten & Golden, LLP



Jocelyn Larkin
The Impact Fund



Carolyn Lerner
U.S. Office of Special Counsel



Leslie Perlow
Harvard Business School



Laurie Rudman
Rutgers University



Joseph Sellers
Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll



Pamela Stone
Hunter College & Graduate Center (CUNY)


Gillian Thomas
U.S. EEOC, New York



Joe Vandello
University of South Florida



Joan Williams
Center for WorkLife Law
U.C. Hastings College of the Law


The Flexibility Stigma Working Group produced nine studies, which were published in the Journal of Social Issues in June 2013. The articles are:

Cultural Schemas, Social Class, and The Flexibility Stigma  by Joan C Williams, Mary Blair-Loy, and Jennifer Berdahl
The introductory essay sets forth the theoretical framework within which the following articles proceed by a review of literature about how workplace flexibility stigma differs by class and gender. Read more here.
The All-or-Nothing Workplace: Flexibility Stigma and “Opting Out” Among Professional-Managerial Women  by Pamela Stone and Lisa Ackerly Hernandez
Stone and Hernandez find that, particularly after professional/managerial women go part time, their status and the quality of their work assignments suffer. The authors find both strong evidence of flexibility stigma, and that the women involved do not see themselves as victims of prejudice. Instead, they buy into the time norms that ultimately cause them to become disillusioned with their careers and head home. Read more here.
Stereotyping Low-wage Mothers Who Have Work and Family Conflicts  by Lisa Dodson
Dodson documents just how acute are the work-family conflicts these women face as they feel “ripped” between their work schedules and their commitment to giving their children the care they need. She documents that the content of the flexibility stigma is quite different for poor than for other women. Whereas more affluent women with work-family conflict typically receive strong messages that they should stop working and stay home with their children, poor women are more likely to receive the message that they should not have had children. Read more here.
Fathers and the Flexibility Stigma  by Scott Coltrane, Elizabeth C. Miller, Tracy DeHaan and Lauren Stewart
After controlling for a wide variety of characteristics, Coltrane and his co-authors find that men who take a career break, reduce their hours, or are out of the labor force for family reasons sharply reduce their earnings. In contrast to experimental studies, which typically find a larger flexibility stigma for men than for women, Coltrane and his co-authors find few statistically significant differences between the flexibility stigma for men and for women. Read more here.
When Equal Isn’t Really Equal: The Masculine Dilemma of Seeking Work Place Flexibility  by Joseph A. Vandello, Vanessa E. Hettinger, Jennifer K. Bosson, and Jasmine Siddiqi
In this article, Vandello and his co-authors study the moral evaluations of professional men who choose to work part time to take care of an infant. The authors found that men were not penalized more than women on objective measures, but they faced harsher character judgments. Both men and women who used flexibility policies were seen as more feminine and less masculine, but this evaluation hurt the men more because they were seen as gender deviants. Read more here.
Penalizing Men Who Request a Family Leave: Is Flexibility a Femininity Stigma?  by Laurie A. Rudman and Kris Mescher
Using experimental vignettes of men who request to take a 12-week family leave to care for a sick child or an ailing mother, and either do or do not offer to make up the lost hours, this study measured the extent to which workers who took leave were seen as deficient organizational citizens (“bad worker stigma”) and feminine (“femininity stigma”). They found that men who took leave were viewed as bad workers, and the bad worker stigma was associated with organizational penalties (e.g., being demoted or downsized). Read more here.
Workplace Mistreatment of Middle Class Workers Based on Sex, Parenthood, and Caregiving  by Jennifer L. Berdhal and Sue H. Moon
This article examines two different working-class samples of public service employees. The first sample involves a female-dominated workforce and the second involves a male-dominated one. These studies examine both men’s and women’s experiences of social mistreatment in their organizations (e.g., teasing, insults, slander, and sabotage), and whether amounts of social mistreatment relate to the amount of caregiving employees engage in within the home. The authors found that employees who violated gender stereotypes for caregiving were subjected to more mistreatment than those who conformed to gender stereotypes. Read more here.
Ask and Ye Shall Receive? The Dynamics of Employer-Provided Flexible Work Options and the Need for Public Policy  by Victoria Brescoll, Jennifer Glass and Alexandra Sedlovskaya
The authors studied managers’ responses to workers’ requests for a compressed workweek with experimental scenarios. These authors examine whether managers who are asked to play the role of an employer react differently to men and women who request flex time, and whether their reaction depends on the reason for the request and/or the status of the employee. In their first study, they found that managers are more likely to grant compressed workweeks to high-status men than to high-status women when the request was made for career development reasons. The second study found that both men and women believed it was less likely that their requests for leave would be granted than is actually likely to be the case; high-status women overestimated, while high-status men underestimated, the likelihood that their request for flex-time would be granted for child care reasons. Read more here.
Concluding Essay: The Legal and Policy Implications of the Flexibility Stigma  by Stephanie Bornstein
The concluding essay places the studies presented in this issue within a larger legal and public policy context. She concludes that, because the flexibility stigma is rooted in gender stereotypes, its effects can be litigated under Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination because of sex. Second, prior as well as the present research suggests that private and public policies that encourage the adoption of workplace flexibility must also control for bias against mothers and gender non-conforming fathers, lest such policies be undermined by the flexibility stigma. Read more here.