Assuming women want flexibility is benevolent sexism

London Business School behavioural expert calls for structural changes


An organisational behaviour expert from London Business School has challenged the assumption that working women need flexibility to be happy.

In an interview with The Guardian published today, Celia Moore, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, London Business School, said the assumption was a form of “benevolent sexism”.

“Understanding that women who are parents face different challenges is incredibly important,” she says. “However, organisations can sometimes misunderstand what really drives women in their careers”, Moore says.

“There was research done by one of the big accounting firms in the nineties. They assumed that the reason they lost women was because they had made the choice to stay home. Finally the leader of the organisation contacted women who had left in the last six months, 80% of them were still in full employment.”

Moore’s challenge is borne out by the views of professional women who were polled at the School’s annual Women in Business Conference (13 March), organised by London Business School’s Women in Business Club.

Just 14% felt that a benchmark of success would be a better work-life balance; 44% wanted job satisfaction, while 34% wanted to be able to define their company’s direction and leadership. Power takes precedence over time, it would seem.

Dr Moore is calling for structural change to allow men and women to share responsibilities at work and at home.

“When parental leave consists of two weeks for men and a year for women, we’re saying ‘women are going to take care of the kids’. It becomes a societal law. We need more structural changes that facilitate equal participation of men and women in the workplace and in the home. You can’t fix one without the other.”

Her warning is: “Don’t make assumptions that women want less. They’re right in front of you, so just ask them!”