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A young woman balances working at home with her family life, on a web conference while attending to her baby

Women value their work-life balance much more than men do when at a junior-level on average, but not at the managerial-level, according to new research by Durham University Business School.

A study conducted by Dr Ivan Lim alongside colleagues from Leeds University Business School and University of International Business and Economics, sought to understand the nature of the gender satisfaction gap in the workplace, whether women valued their work-life balance more across the board, and if this is related to firm performance.  

Job satisfaction data

The researchers reviewed job satisfaction data on over 2,000 different firms, using Glassdoor – the online job and company review platform. In all, the dataset consisted of almost 100,000 job role reviews, looking into aspects such as work/life balance, the corporate culture, senior leadership, career opportunities and an overall rating.  

The researchers also found that women overall were much less satisfied within their job roles than male colleagues who held the same positions.  

With Glassdoor also providing the characteristics of those workers who submitted job reviews, the researchers were able to identify whether the work-life balance of a job role differed between men and women, as well as whether the means of their progression into more senior roles had an impact.  

Stereotypical pressures 

One reason for less job satisfaction amongst female staff, the researchers suggest, stems from the stereotypical pressures of family life which, in turn, impacts upon their careers. However, family duties and the role of women at home means that women are much more likely to have to balance their work and home lives, therefore placing more emphasis on their firm’s policies regarding work-life balance as compared to most men. 

The researchers further find that the emphasis on work-life balance disappears at the managerial-level. This suggests that women with personal responsibilities may be held back from more workplace responsibilities, or that attaining higher positions requires giving up their work-life balance, a challenging task given their home responsibilities.  

Improving policies and procedures to address organisational issues  

While the research also revealed firm performance appeared to be higher for companies with less disparity in the satisfaction gap between women and men, the researchers caution against interpreting this result causally, stating that there are many other factors that could affect this association.  

“There are a number of things companies can do to support (female) staff in their career progression,” says Dr Lim.  

“For instance, instead of prioritising individuals who are more willing to sacrifice work-life balance, firms can improve the quality and equality of their promotions procedures by identifying ways to address broader organisational issues that contribute to an overall positive work culture. This can be quite beneficial for firms themselves, as well as society.” 

Additionally, implementing greater family-friendly policies such as increased remote working and flexible hours could help benefit women’s career progression at all stages of life, helping to target the underlying issues that impede women's progress in the workplace. Going further, paid family leave and employer-sponsored childcare could help close the gender satisfaction gap, by easing the work-life balance challenges female staff typically face.  

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