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Men facing discrimination for taking advantage of flexible working

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

Recent research has shown there’s a disconnect with expectations in flexible working, with men being treated unfairly for taking advantage of these policies.

According to the Diversity Council of Australia’s (DCA) 2023 Inclusion@Work report, there are perceptions that flexible work is for women, which is causing negative attitudes to stir around men who are utilising these opportunities.

In fact, the report found that there is a significant gap between men and women who take advantage of flexible work. DCA found that 57 per cent of men have some form of flexible working arrangement, compared to 72 per cent of women.


This is causing issues for 57 per cent of men, with 37 per cent claiming they’ve been subjected to discrimination and harassment for using these benefits. Just 24 per cent of women reported the same, highlighting a significant disconnect in attitudes.

“Most people accept that women are primary carers of children. If a woman asks to work in a different way so she can manage her responsibilities outside of work, that’s usually within the ‘normal’ expectations of how women behave,” said Lisa Annese, DCA chief executive.

These perceptions have been ongoing, even before the rise of flexible working during the pandemic. DCA found that one in four face some form of discrimination or harassment for choosing to work flexibly. This figure stood at 31 per cent in 2019.

According to DCA both men and women are guilty of these biases. Some of the forms of discrimination and harassment experienced were snide remarks, missing out on professional opportunities, and experiencing social exclusion.

“They’re seen as not being committed to their careers anymore and as not having the requisite leadership capabilities. They’re behaving in a way outside of the stereotype of their gender and they are punished for that,” explained Ms Annese.

“Even though women do often face repercussions, it’s still usually easier for them to access flexible work even if it [has long-term impacts] on their career. For men, they’re up against a different challenge. People might say, ‘That’s strange that you want to work flexibly to look after children.’“

Leaders can do their part to turn these negative perceptions around by encouraging employees to take advantage of the benefits offered. Calling out harassment and discrimination and stamping it out can help to make people feel more psychologically safe at work.

“I had a woman at a leading organisation once say to me, ‘We’ve got this man and he wants to work part-time, but I know his wife doesn’t work.’ I said to her, ‘This isn’t something you’d say if it was a woman who was asking for flexibility. You wouldn’t be thinking about whether her partner was working or not,’” she continued.

“She wasn’t malicious, she’d just never thought about it. We’re so wedded to those stereotypes, and that’s one of the biggest challenges for men. Their masculinity gets questioned. A policy is a starting point. But policies don’t necessarily reflect culture. If the men in your organisation aren’t taking up flexible work, it means they don’t see themselves in that policy.”



According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, discrimination occurs when one individual or group of people is regarded less favourably than another because of their origins or certain personality traits. When a regulation or policy is unfairly applied to everyone yet disadvantages some persons due to a shared personal trait, that is also discrimination.


Harassment is defined as persistent behaviour or acts that intimidate, threaten, or uncomfortably affect other employees at work. Because of anti-discrimination laws and the Fair Work Act of 2009, harassment in Australia is prohibited on the basis of protected characteristics.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.