Inflexible Scheduling Just Another Way Women Are Discriminated Against At Work

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I quit my first job after one of the managers locked me out of the work schedule for three weeks as punishment for going out of town at the last minute to visit my father, who had moved out of state for work while I was finishing high school. I wasn’t happy about it — I liked my job, coworkers and most of the management, and it was rewarding to step toward adulthood by earning my own money — but I didn’t need the job, so when it became clear that the work was inflexible, I turned in my ugly green polos and hightailed it outta there. My parents went back to paying for my Blockbuster rentals and after-school slushies, and I returned to sleeping in on Sundays and letting other people bag my groceries.

Unfortunately, most of the world isn’t a privileged middle-class teenage girl looking for something to fill up their spare time, so when they have a job, it’s actually so they can, you know, sustain themselves and their families. Women especially are feeling this pressure, as 40% of households now have a woman as sole breadwinner — that’s up from 11% in 1960. Which is why recent stories about workplaces creating schedules around just about everything but what their most vulnerable employees need to survive are more than just upsetting; they’re downright infuriating.

Parenthood and Career Advancement

First, on Wednesday, the New York Times published an exposé on big companies that use scheduling software to juggle its low-income employees into complicated and inflexible timetables that will ostensibly boost profits and productivity. That story focused on 22-year-old Jannette Navarro, a single mother whose Starbucks job has helped her save money toward buying a car, but only at the expense of her flexibility, familial relationships and education. Unpredictable back-to-back shifts and schedules released only days before they start mean that Navarro has to rely on family members for last-minute childcare and kept her from committing to a schedule for getting her drivers license, among other things. Her boyfriend eventually breaks up with her after telling her he’s overwhelmed by her schedule. “You’re waiting on your job to control your life,” she told the Times.

Starbucks actually responded quickly to the story, announcing changes to its opening-closing shift policies and plans to enforce an existing rule about posting schedules at least a week in advance. But of course the problem is more widespread than a single company, even one as big as Starbucks, and study results released Monday show part of the cultural biases at play. Those findings, from a Furman University sociological study that asked 646 participants to consider work scheduling requests from the role of an employer, found that people were more likely to grant requests from men than from women, in addition to finding men who asked for flexibility more “likeable” and “committed” to their jobs. Yes, that’s right: Men who ask to work non-traditional hours or from home so they can care for their children are considered more likeable and dedicated workers than women who request the same accommodations for the same exact reasons. All this because of some backward notions about who should hold responsibility for childcare and who should be earning a family’s money. According to the lead researcher, Christin Munsch:

“These results demonstrate how cultural notions of parenting influence perceptions of people who request flexible work. Today, we think of women’s responsibilities as including paid labor and domestic obligations, but we still regard breadwinning as men’s primary responsibility and we feel grateful if men contribute in the realm of childcare or to other household tasks.”

When you combine these pieces of news with stories like that of Debra Harrell, a South Carolina woman who was fired from McDonald’s this summer after getting arrested for letting her nine-year-old daughter play at the park during a work shift, you see the real, devastating consequences of these attitudes and policies. Women are actually going to jail because they cannot successfully work a system designed to keep them from accessing appropriate jobs and childcare. When women do ask for accommodations, they are viewed less favorably and as less committed, even though it seems like being upfront about your needs should show you’re more dedicated to making a job work.

We already know women make less money than men do for the same work (though there’s some dispute about exactly how much less) and that mothers face higher rates of unemployment than men do. We also know that, by and large, employers are in business to turn a profit, not to work around the individual needs and preferences of every single person they employ. HOWEVER, there is a difference between catering to a single woman who has a hectic schedule and recognizing that a huge category of workers across the board have lives that are incompatible with the ways schedules are determined. When we ignore those incompatibilities, we put women into impossible situations, and then we blame them for being in those situations to begin with. The lack of respect isn’t surprising, but goddamn is it frustrating.

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Kaitlyn lives in New York, which is the simplest answer you're going to get if you ask her where she's from. She went to journalism school and is arguably making the most of her degree as a writer and copy editor. She utilizes her monthly cable bill by watching more competitive cooking shows than should be allowed.

Kaitlyn has written 69 articles for us.


  1. Ughh, that Starbucks story made me so angry and sad. I know the patriarchy expects women to be endlessly accommodating but come ON.

  2. The thing that used to bother me the most when I worked at Starbucks was the schedule.
    The funny thing is that coffee shops and restaurants advertise themselves to employees as having “flexible” schedules. But the truth is that if you don’t have 100% availability to work any shift at any time, you get fewer hours and are not considered for promotions. So the flexibility is really only available to the company, not the employee.

    This story made me sad.

  3. Men get to be heroes and women the despicable villains.

    This only adds to the sense of helplessness that’s been with me today all day.

    Today, in Spain, 5 men accused of raping a woman have been released from prison because they say she wanted it. 3 of them raped her and the other 2 recorded it with a cellphone. That’s the way justice works here, that’s how all survivors are seen: guilty. It’s not the aggressors that are to blame, but the victims.

    If this is not enough, yesterday Spanish government published a list of recommendations for women to follow in order to “avoid” sexual assault: not going out alone when it’s dark, closing the curtains at night, and if you’re home alone, turning on the lights of two rooms so that rapists believe you’re accompanied.

    That is just another way to make women feel insecure and guilty if they don’t follow those recommendations. Instead of making an effort to build a society where women don’t have to fear going out alone, they blame it on us of assaults happen.

    As we once sang at a protest:

    Us women want to be free, we don’t want to be brave.

  4. It’s fascinating when these studies are done that demonstrate how much internalized prejudice people have, and yet libertarians and others can argue that there’s a level playing field?!? *headdesk*

  5. I’ve read several stories recently about parents being arrested for allowing their older children to be in a playground or park unattended and it just baffles me. If the parent trusts their child to be out alone, and the child isn’t causing trouble and doesn’t seem lost or scared, I don’t see the need for other adults or law enforcement to intervene. Like, use some judgement. A 9-year-old playing in a park, in the daytime with a cellphone on her for emergencies, is not a neglected or endangered child.

    I know this isn’t the central issue of this post, but a lack of appropriate childcare is often a huge problem for working parents, especially those in service industry jobs that have varying hours. Unless you have a family member nearby who can watch your children at the drop of a hat, you’re pretty much screwed.

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