Factors for consideration between work and family issues for many women tend to be focused on the decision to begin a family by having children, and caring for children once they are born. In regard to work specifically, this relates to maternity leave as well as scheduling. Balance between work and family in this regard is a balance of time: having and taking care of children often requires significant amounts of responsibility, and ensuring these responsibilities are met while also meeting job responsibilities can be challenging if an organization does not have provisions for women with many family responsibilities.
While allowing for maternity leave is mandated by nearly all organizations, the amount of time allowed off will differ between organizations. This can range from a few weeks to a few months, but there are other issues for consideration as well (Dishman, 2015). For instance, many women may choose to voluntarily reduce the amount of time they are allowed for maternity leave if they are in the middle of a project. Although they are allowed time off, they might also be personally involved in a specific work project and committed to seeing it through to completion. However, taking care of a newborn can also be significantly demanding even if one has a strong support system, such as other family members who can help with home responsibilities, so there is often a delicate balance between work and family. Unless a balance is met, responsibilities in one of these areas might be neglected.

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One way an organization can provide support for women and those with significant family responsibilities is by creating a culture of supportive supervision. Supportive supervision is defined as “an organization’s support for individuals with family responsibilities” (Clark, 2001, p.349). The culture for supportive supervision comes from leadership that identifies women will often need to balance both family and work schedules, as these are often the two most important and time-consuming factors in one’s life. Supportive supervision is often implemented by organizations who listen to their employees and are willing to understand that family responsibilities may sometimes make unexpected demands of one’s time in a way that might also interfere with work responsibilities.

Supportive supervision is generally a top down model by which “first-line supervisors” (Rodgers and Rodgers, 2004, p.122) react to these occasional work-family balance conflicts. By determining employee efficiency in regard to output, rather than amount of hours spent on a task, many conflicts that arise may be resolved: if a worker needs to leave early or unexpectedly for a family related manner, for instance, an organization that includes a culture of supportive supervision would be understanding, rather than assessing penalties. This is often done through concepts such as flexible scheduling, which does not require an employee to maintain standard hours as long as the job responsibilities at hand gets done. However, it also includes factors such as supervisor empathy toward family matters, with the understanding that conflicts between work and home life may sometimes unexpectedly occur. In this system, employees are encouraged to make use of policies such as vacation time provided by the organization. There might also be provisions for daycare, with the understanding that providing daycare options can often help women balance responsibilities between family and work. The responsibilities associated with raising a family are seen as understandable, and the organization acknowledges that many of these responsibilities can arise suddenly and unexpectedly, particularly when children are involved. If an organization allows provisions for women who also have family responsibilities, there are less conflicts between work and family obligations, and in many instances can reduce stress and make work more productive. When combined with effective maternity leave policies, supportive supervision is often the best way that organizations can help women balance work-life issues throughout their careers.

  • Clark, S. (2001). Work Cultures and Work/Family Balance. Journal of Vocational Behavior 58, 348-365.
  • Dishman, L. (2015). How new parental leave policies birthed a startup. Fast Company.
    Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3054048/second-shift/how-new-parental- leave-policies-birthed-a-startup
  • Rodgers, F., & Rodgers, C. (2004). Business and the facts of family life. Harvard Business Review 89, 121-129.