This article uses evidence from a piece of action research conducted in the UK hospitality industry to explore the effectiveness of work‐life balance initiatives in helping women progress to senior management. It explores the main barriers to women's progression and highlights the long hours associated with managerial roles as a major problem. The article shows that the business case which underpins diversity management and a voluntary approach to work‐life balance may only deliver positive benefits to women when the labour market is tight, and, even then, the benefits for women in management are far from demonstrated. A stronger equal opportunities approach is also shown to be problematic as it draws attention to women's “difference” to men and their need for special treatment. Given the contingent nature of the business case, it is argued that a strong floor of rights is still needed to protect the most vulnerable employees, especially in an industry where trade unions have virtually no “voice”. It is further argued that more work needs to be done with male managers in order to humanise the workplace for men and women who wish to lead rounded lives.
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