The part-time paradox – why part-time leadership sometimes IS possible

Businesswoman Juggling Responsibility

About the author: Astrid Reichel is Full Professor and head of the HRM group at University of Salzburg, Austria. The research project was funded by the Chamber of Doctors, Salzburg. You can contact her at astrid.reichel@plus.ac.at  

When we, my colleague Isabella Scheibmayr and myself, investigated careers of female doctors in Austria through the lens of institutional logics we found an interesting phenomenon we termed “part-time leadership paradox”. It describes the simultaneous compatibility and incompatibility of leadership positions with reduced working time.

Astrid Reichel

We conducted semi-structured interviews with doctors at various career stages employed in hospitals focusing on leadership positions (senior physicians formally qualified to become chief physicians) and chief physicians. In the interviews, when we were talking about careers in general, the doctors told us of ways to combine working in the hospital with a private practice (employment outside of the organization). This combination is very common among senior physicians and especially chief physicians and often done by reducing work hours and/or working part-time at the hospital.

However, when we were asking about women’s career specifically, reducing hours and working part-time was framed as being incompatible with leadership careers. Instead, reduced work time was named as one of the main reasons for why a leadership position is not achievable for women:

“I believe it is still … a problem that I see in my daily work environment, that it just is a fact, that when women then do part-time, that this is a career break. That just is a fact.” (Interview_05: 78)

This paradox of reduced working hours as in/compatible with leadership careers even appeared within different sections of the same interview. Sometimes the change in judging leadership in part-time as possible or impossible happened only minutes apart. In the example below the first quote originates from the conversation centring around a female doctor’s own career and how she perceives a leadership track as impossible due to her young children:

Interviewer: „that means, such a position [chief physician] is not…” Doctor: “No, that claims you – I think, and it does not matter where you are by then – but that [position] claims you a 100% and there is also no part-time, of course (laughs), so no part-time (…)” (Interview_03: 145-146)

In this quote, the interviewee even laughed signalling that the thought of having a leadership position and working less than 100% seemed hilarious to her. However, three minutes later, when the discussion centred around her male spouse’s (also a doctor) career path, she described how he combines being a senior physician (a leadership position, albeit not being the highest within the hospital) with a private practice through part-time work:

Doctor: “(…) yes, now he [senior physician] works three days in [hospital] and two days in the private practice”. Interviewer: “okay“. Doctor: “It’s a private practice, which he will, probably, take over. (…)” Interviewer: “Interesting, very exciting that, as a doctor, one can commute like that (…) people often work in different places and commute certain days in other areas, but that this is possible for a doctor as well, is (…) Doctor: „yes sure, it is possible, very certainly (…) and he likes it a lot, because he has both somehow, so he likes being in the hospital, and he can still practice there and he is still in his private practice (…)” (Interview_03: 160-170)

To check if this paradox can be explained by double standard applied to women and men we systematically went through the interviews and found that women also told stories about their own private practices and how they balance them with their senior position in the hospital (interview 8:34, interview 2:50), and male colleagues or partners struggling to reduce work hours for unpaid care work (interview 1:95, interview 5:82). Thus, this paradox appears to show independently of the actual career actors’ sex. However, it seems to be “gendered” indirectly, that is through the (perceived) reasons for part-time work which are gendered instead. Part-time for care work is gendered as “female” and, thus, seen as incompatible with leadership positions, while part-time for professional work is gendered as “male” and perceived as compatible with leadership roles.

Reference

Scheibmayr, I./Reichel, A. The gendered logic of logics: Female doctors’ navigating specific constellations of logics to leadership careers, Presentation at the 38th EGOS Colloquium – WU Wien, Vienna, Austria, July 2022

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