Notwithstanding these positive trends, the glass ceiling is not broken (although it has been cracked a bit) and even telecommuting is used in different ways with male and female employees. For example, Arnow-Richman points out that, "While telecommuting was once heralded as an ideal solution for integrating work and family, studies suggest that employers have implemented the practice in two different ways with disparate effects on male and female employees" (2003, p. 346). These two different approaches used with telecommuting are as follows:
1. In one form, employers offer telecommuting as an option for high-level autonomous professionals (a class dominated by men);
2. In another form, employers impose telecommuting on lower-wage clerical workers (a class dominated by women), who are often independent contractors unentitled to other employment benefits.
The net impact of these two different approaches to this change in the workplace structure has been felt by men and women in completely different ways with respect to family structure. For instance, Arnow-Richman concludes that, "In this way, employers have co-opted the transformative potential of the virtual workplace, rewarding entrepreneurial employees who conform to ideal worker standards, while marginalizing caregivers who are compelled to accept employment casualization in order to accommodate family obligations" (2003, p. 347). Indeed, the need for women, as the primary caregivers for the young children of a family of whatever composition, to remain absent from the workplace from time to time has continued to play a part in the changing workplace structure of the 21st century. As Habig points out, 'The predominant workplace structures limit women's professional opportunities during their childbearing years" (2008, p. 1215).
While significant progress has been made in eliminating many of the discriminatory practices in the workplace that marginalized female employees in years past, the harsh reality of the human condition and the need for caregiving during the early years of life have continued to place American women at a disadvantage compared to their male counterparts in many workplace instances. For example, Habig emphasizes that, "The greatest problem for many working women lies not in combating or overcoming discrete instances of invidious discrimination, but rather in building successful long-term careers given the structural obstacles to their professional advancement" (2008, p. 1216).
In this area at least, the family structure remains essentially the same with women continuing to assume responsibility for the lion's share of childcare during the early years of life, but it is this biological difference that has been exacerbated by the recent structural changes in the American workplace, something that has gained even more impetus in recent years. For example, Martin and Riemens (2000) report that during the period from 1998 to 2000, more than half (51%) of workplaces have experienced some type of reorganization of their workplace structure in recent years, a trend that is even more pronounced (83%) in larger companies with more than 500 employees. Not surprisingly, these changes in workplace structure have been felt most significantly by their employees. In this regard, Martin and Riemens add that, "Of a range of kinds of change, reorganization of workplace structure was most frequently seen as having the greatest impact on employees, especially in large firms" (2000, p. 329).
This flurry of structural changes in the workplace has inordinately affected female employees. For instance, Habig points out that, "At the simplest level, these obstacles stem from the typical workplace's restriction of space (physical location away from the home) and time (long blocks of time at work each day, over a continuous period of years)" (2008, p. 1216). The need to balance work and family obligations has long been a source of contention between employees and employers, and this issue has become especially pronounced in recent years. According to Secret (2000, p. 217), in response to calls for improved approaches to balancing family and work, a number of family-oriented workplace policies have been introduced into the workplace in recent years including:
1. Alternative work arrangements;
2. Leave time allowances;
3. Mental health/wellness programs; and,
4. Dependent care services.
Likewise, besides telework and telecommuting alternatives, other alternative work arrangement policies include:
1. Modification of daily start and stop times;
2. Compressed work week;
3. Part-time work; and
4. Job-sharing (Secret, 2000, p. 218).
These are important issues because they have a direct bearing on the impact of changes in the workplace structure as they relate to family structures. For instance, Habig notes that, "The assumption underlying this structure is that the employee has no significant personal obligations that might cut into his workday or necessitate a temporary absence from the workforce" (2008, p. 1216). According to Jacobs and Gerson (2004), these assumptions are based on the view that employees (at least male employees) do not require such a balance between work and home for childcare requirements because there will be a stay-at-home parent available (typically a female) who can take care of these personal responsibilities. Female employees, though, who have children, deviate from this conventional workplace model even if it is only on a temporary basis (Jacobs & Gerson, 2004).
From a strictly pragmatic perspective, employers therefore naturally tend to be wary of female employees because at some point, they will be compelled to leave the workplace -- even if only temporarily -- to assume these childcare responsibilities. As a result, employers may simply group all female employees in this suspect category whether they intend to have children or not and will limit or avoid investing in their training, promotional opportunities as well as pay and benefits (Issacharoff & Rosenblum, 1999). According to Habit, "Indeed, because employers have difficulty determining which of the women they employ will leave at some point (and for how long), all women of childbearing age may be lumped together into the same 'flight-risk' category. In this way, women may experience workplace consequences because of their reproductive capacity even if they are not pregnant and do not intend to become pregnant" (2008, p. 1216).
Therefore, for better or worse, the American family structure has also changed in substantive ways during the past 20 years or so, and these changes have significant implications for the family members involved. In this regard, Ginther and Pollak emphasize that, "Children reared in certain family structures will, on average, receive more psychological support or more social, cultural, and economic resources than children reared in others. For example, single-parent families may be associated with inconsistent parenting or reduced supervision and control, and these characteristics of parenting styles may adversely affect child development" (2004, p. 672). This point is also made by Magnuson and Berger who analyzed the effects of changes in family structure on parents and children alike. According to these researchers:
Residence in single-mother and social-father families, as well as transitions to single-mother families, are associated with relatively small increases in children's behavior problems and, to a lesser extent, declines in achievement. Prior research suggests that economic resources, parenting quality, and stress for children and parents are likely to be the intervening processes through which these effects are initiated. (Magnuson & Berger, 2009, p. 577)
Taken together, the structural changes that have taken place in the workplace have been accompanied by corresponding changes in the structure of the family in ways that have placed many members of two generations of Americans who have been raised in single-parent or blended families at a competitive disadvantage compared to those reared in traditional family units. The inextricable relationship between workplace structure and family structure is highlighted by Secret's observations that, "The finding that workplace structure characteristics are, across the board, better predictors of the use of work-family benefits than are the individual employee attributes contributes to the growing body of empirical evidence that macro level conditions exert a major influence on the work-family considerations of employees" (2000, p. 218).
Summary and Conclusion
The research showed that the adage, "The more things change, the more they stay the same" is applicable in many ways to the structural changes that have been experienced in the American workplace during the past 20 years, particularly with respect to different ways these changes have affected men and women. On the one hand, the structural changes that have taken place in the American workplace during the past 2 decades have created new opportunities for both men and women improve the balance between home and life by providing the ability for them to work from their homes or other locations outside the traditional workplace, but even these opportunities have been experienced differently by men and women. This is not to say, of course, that all women are at a disadvantage in the workplace by virtue of these structural changes or that all men enjoy a competitive advantage, but it is to say that many authorities continue to cite the different ways these changes in the workplace have affected men and women by virtue of their biological differences that involve more women still continuing to bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities for the…