Professor Ryan's research has included looking at women's work-life balance in relation to male-dominated occupations such as surgery. Image courtesy

What really helps women achieve a good work-life balance?

“Women continue to be underrepresented in organisational life, in professions such as surgery and in roles such as leadership. This lack of representation is both a moral issue of gender inequality and a practical issue of productivity and staff retention.”

So Professor Michelle Ryan said in her keynote presentation to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology in Glasgow this week.

Michelle Ryan is Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology and Dean of Postgraduate Research at the University of Exeter and Professor of Diversity at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands. Together with Alex Haslam, she uncovered the phenomenon of the glass cliff, whereby women (and members of other minority groups) are more likely to be placed in leadership positions which are risky or precarious.

Professor Ryan presented research where she considers work-life balance in relation to identity and belongingness. In research conducted with the Royal Navy and with the Royal College of Surgery, Professor Ryan and her team demonstrated that, while time conflict plays a small role in perceptions of work-life balance, organisational identification and the degree to which one feels they ‘fit in’ with those who are already successful within one's profession, are also important factors.

Those with a weaker feeling of fit tend to perceive poorer work-life balance, independent of their reported time conflict. This relationship, she believes, is likely to have particularly negative implications for women, who are less like to feel as though they fit in, especially in male-dominated contexts.

Professor Ryan says: "Interventions that address issues of time conflict, such as part-time working and flexible working, may at best only address part of the issue and at worse could exacerbate issues of fit and work-life balance.”

Date: 6 December 2014

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