Expert: Women's Perks Can Bring New Problems A new study by Working Mother magazine finds professional women are redefining the workplace to be more flexible and family friendly. Alice Eagly, co-author of Through the Labyrinth, cautions that flexible benefits may mean segregation.
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Expert: Women's Perks Can Bring New Problems

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Expert: Women's Perks Can Bring New Problems

Expert: Women's Perks Can Bring New Problems

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

On Wednesdays we talk about the workplace. And today, the latest issue of Working Mother magazine says many employers are making it easier to be just that - a mother who works. The magazine lists 100 companies with flexible family-friendly policies.

But yeah, women still on average make 81 cents to a man's dollar, and only two percent of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women.

And that's a concern for Alice Eagly. She is co-author of a new book about women and leadership called "Through the Labyrinth." Good morning.

Dr ALICE EAGLY (Weinberg College of Arts and Science): Good morning.

AMOS: When companies say they offer family-friendly policies, what does that mean?

Dr. EAGLY: Usually that involves some flexibility in hours that they could leave work for going to the child's school, to a school play, and that kind of thing. They could work from home. Another thing they do is give child care help. On-site child care is tremendously helpful.

AMOS: And do these flex hours - is it just the mothers or the fathers too?

Dr. EAGLY: Well, that's an issue. If only mothers take these options, it's sort of a mixed blessing for women because employers would anticipate that women would need special accommodation and men don't. So men would be the more sort of easier employee.

AMOS: There are studies that show that women's careers often get stuck on what's called the mommy track. If these strides are being made, what is the reason for that?

Dr. EAGLY: Well, again, it's the inequality in the making use of the flexible work benefits. Men need to take these benefits too. And in so far as men are taking more responsibility for childcare and family work in general - as they are, in fact - some men will take these benefits.

AMOS: When women are thinking about having children, the gold standard has always been Northern European countries like Sweden, where there are built-in time off for mothers. Is there any evidence that those intense mother-friendly policies actually help women's careers?

Dr. EAGLY: Well, a lot of women are employed. There's high workforce participation of women in Sweden. There is a downside, because the benefits are quite extreme, in our terms, of being able to take one, two and even three years off and return to your job. So what Sweden has actually is a highly segregated workforce. Women do not do particularly well in business management. They do not rise to high places where that kind of time away would be problematic for those careers. So they tend to be concentrated in social services and certain kinds of jobs. And women's wages are depressed by those policies.

AMOS: We have been talking mostly about sort of the high-end of the income bracket. How does this work for women in low-income jobs? Do they get the same kind of flex-time that we're beginning to see in corporate America?

Dr. EAGLY: Those benefits are more available to women in professional jobs. So no, sometimes they're not available, say, working from home. If you're a clerk in a store, you can't do that. So jobs are more flexible at the high-end.

AMOS: Alice, at the end of the day, we have a magazine who tells us there are 100 companies with family-friendly policies, a magazine that suggests that mothers can have it all. Have we gone forward?

Dr. EAGLY: Yes, we have gone forward, of course. Women's wages relative to men's are much higher now than they used to be. Women, as a percentage of managers, are over 40 percent now in the U.S. In terms of being chief executives of all organizations, the figure is now 23 percent. So women have advanced extraordinarily in the workplace in the last decades.

AMOS: Alice Eagly is a professor of psychology at Northwestern University and co-author of a forthcoming book about overcoming obstacles to women's success. Thanks very much.

Dr. EAGLY: You're welcome.

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