ABSTRACT

Introduction Flexible working arrangements are a prominent issue in Western societies. Enterprises strive for more flexibility in order to respond to sudden changes in demand, adapt to new technologies and be in a position to innovate constantly in order to remain competitive. Flexibility, however, is not only identified as an important ingredient in the quest for competitiveness by employers. Contemporary employees might also demand non-fulltime working hours and/or flexible working schedules to suit their preferred lifestyles and to reconcile their working and private lives. Partly as a result of these developments, the issue of flexibility has become a vital element of European social policy, too. For example, within the context of guideline seven of Europe 2020 (‘Increasing labour market participation of women and men, reducing structural unemployment and promoting job quality’) Member States are encouraged to take measures to enhance flexibility (OJEC 2010). Yet from a gender perspective, the relationship between flexible working time arrangements and gender equality is rather ambivalent. Part-time work, for example, is often rated positively from the perspective of work-life balance, in as much as more individualised working hours can help employees reconcile their work obligations and personal lives. The availability of part-time working hours might therefore have a positive effect on the female participation rate (Jaumotte 2003; OECD 2007). However, part-time work is often precarious work, with low earnings and limited career opportunities, and as such might deepen the labour market inequality between men and women (e.g. O’Reilly and Fagan 1998; Boulin et al. 2006). The ambivalent relationship between flexible working arrangements and gender equality is summarised by the EU in its Roadmap for equality between women and men 2006-10:

Flexible working arrangements boost productivity, enhance employee satisfaction and employers reputation. However, the fact that far more women than men make use of such arrangements creates a gender imbalance which has a negative impact on women’s position in the workplace and their economic independence.