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Discourse or reality? “Work‐life balance”, flexible working policies and the gendered organization

Suzan Lewis (Middlesex University Business School, London, UK)
Anne Laure Humbert (Middlesex University Business School, London, UK)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 26 March 2010




The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of flexible working arrangements (FWAs) and particularly reduced hours working arrangements on a Dual Agenda of gender equity and workplace effectiveness, in a case study organization employing a relatively high proportion of women scientists.


In‐depth interviews based on the initial stages of collaborative interactive action research (CIAR) are used within a case‐study approach. The interviews explored working practices, the assumptions underpinning them and their un/intended consequences.


The main form of FWA used in the organization, four days a week, is double edged and complex in its effects. It supports mothers, but at a cost because of gendered assumptions. Despite a commitment to flexibility and “work‐life balance”, the gendered construction of the ideal worker and ideas of competence conflated with hegemonic masculinity, remain powerful. This, together with a prevalent “good mother” ideology, undermines both gender equity and workplace effectiveness.

Practical implications

This paper is of value to both researchers and policy makers. It shows that highly developed work‐life balance or flexible working polices are not sufficient to enhance gender equity and points to the importance of surfacing and challenging gender assumptions in science, engineering and technology. It emphasizes the need to move forward from policy to practice.


This paper contributes to a growing body of work using initial stages of the CIAR methodology and showcases the theoretical insights gained by such an approach.



Lewis, S. and Humbert, A.L. (2010), "Discourse or reality? “Work‐life balance”, flexible working policies and the gendered organization", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp. 239-254.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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