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November 20, 2021

Misconceptions over family-work conflict hurting women

That thud you may have heard recently is the sound of women continuing to hit their heads on that invisible glass ceiling, according to recent research from the University of Illinois.

One key factor: Too many managers, regardless of gender, believe women have more family-work conflict than men

And this belief, mistaken though it is, leads supervisors to take a negative view of female employees' suitability for promotion and salary increases, maintains Jenny Hoobler, the professor who headed up the study.

This seems a bit odd when you consider that, 30 years ago, 41 per cent of women reported feeling some level of work/life conflict, whereas only 35 per cent of men did. Today, the numbers are roughly the same for women, but 59 per cent of men are now similarly torn.

The researchers also found that the more children a woman has, the more family-work conflict bosses perceived. Managers also associate a woman’s responsibility for elder care with higher incidence of family-work conflict, the researchers say.

All this leads Hoobler and her team to observe that the misconceptions supporting the glass ceiling today are much more subtle, multifaceted, and deeply embedded than they once were.

“Today women encounter biases so rooted in systems that they may not even be noticed until they’re eradicated,” she says.

To see how deep these perceptions can go, try playing Gender Bias Bingo, an exercise developed by the Center for Work Life Law at the University of California.

Your playing card consists of nine boxes aligned in three rows and columns, with each box describing forms of gender bias, such as hitting a “Maternal Wall” based on unfair expectations of mothers, or “Double Binds” when women are urged to behave like men but then criticized when they do.

Tell us: Do you feel that work-life balance issues hold women back? Are things worse, thanks to the downturn?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...