The All-or-Nothing Workplace: Flexibility Stigma and “Opting Out” Among Professional-Managerial Women


  • This research was supported by grants to the first author from the Sloan Foundation and the PSC-CUNY Faculty Research Grant Program.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Pamela Stone, Department of Sociology, Hunter College, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10065. Tel: (212) 772-5586 [e-mail:].


Using a model of the stigmatization of flexible work based on status legitimation theory, we analyze the experiences of a sample of 54 mothers who “opted out” of professional jobs. Qualitative text analysis reveals that features of women's workplaces are conducive to the creation and maintenance of flexibility stigma and bias and that women working flexibly are subjected to various forms of stigmatizing treatment, which plays a role in their decision to suspend their careers. We find limited evidence, however, that women perceive high levels of stigma and differential treatment as reflecting bias or prejudice. Instead, the majority appears to accept the legitimacy of professional time norms and view their treatment as justifiable. We identify factors that moderate or inhibit their perception of flexibility bias, as distinct from stigma per se, and discuss the limitations of our research as well as its implications for future research and policy.