Women and Public Policy Program Seminar Series

The Work-Family Narrative as a Social Defense: Explaining the Persistence of Gender Inequality in Organizations with Robin Ely

September 15, 2014

Why has women’s professional advancement stalled? A widely accepted explanation is that women’s family obligations conflict with long hours of jobs, hampering their advancement into senior organizational positions. The commonly championed solution has been policies offering flexible work arrangements designed to mitigate such conflict. Yet research shows that men, too, experience work-family conflict. Moreover, work-family policies do little to help women or men’s workplace advancement, and in fact, often hurt them. In this presentation, Ely draws from her in depth case study of a global professional service firm to ask why the belief that work-family conflict lies at the heart of women’s stalled advancement persists. She explores how this popular narrative self-perpetuates despite evidence to the contrary, and how organizations use this narrative as an explanation for women's blocked mobility partly because it diverts attention from the broader problem of a long-hours work culture among professionals. Speaker: Robin Ely, Professor of Business Administration and Senior Associate Dean, Harvard Business School

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