Sarah Thébaud. When do Work-Family Policies Work for Men and Women? Unpacking Material versus Cultural Factors

Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

Existing scholarship suggests that changes to workplaces, such as the implementation of supportive work-family policies, may lead to greater gender equality at work and at home. In practice, however, the utilization of such policies is highly variable across organizations and is highly gendered. In this talk, I will present findings from an original, nationally representative survey experiment that evaluates the underlying mechanisms driving variation in workers’ intentions to use family leave and flexible work policies. Specifically, the study aims to 1) tease apart the relative importance of financial concerns, employer and co-worker expectations, and gender norms as explanations for gender differences in policy use intentions,2) disentangle the direct, and possibly interactive, effects of material aspects of a policy (e.g., the wage replacement rate for family leave) from cultural aspects of a policy (e.g., the informal organizational norms regarding policy use) on policy use intentions. We find compelling evidence that workplace cultures affect the likelihood of policy use, but that these effects – as well as the mechanisms that drive them – vary with gender and occupational status. By isolating specific policy designs and contexts that may have the effect of increasing, as well as equalizing, men’s and women’s policy use, this study contributes new insights to scholarship on gender inequality, organizational behavior, and social policy. 

Sarah Thébaud is a sociologist who investigates how micro-level social psychological processes, together with societal-level institutions, reproduce particularly persistent forms of gender inequality in the economy, such as men’s overrepresentation in entrepreneurship, scientific research, and innovation. Often focusing on cross-cultural comparisons, her research is based on varying data sources, including laboratory studies, large-scale surveys, and in-depth interviews. Examples of current projects include 1) an analysis of the effect of the financial crisis on gender inequity in high-tech start-up investment, 2) an investigation of the role of graduate school experiences on gender disparities in STEM disciplines, and 3) a study of the impact of social policies on young men’s and women’s stated work-family preferences. Her work has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.