The Conditions of Parenthood in Organizations: An International Comparison

Friday, 3 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW2.3.03 (Tower Two)
Alena Krizkova, Institute of Sociology, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic
In this paper we focus on organisations, the conditions for working parents trying to combine work with caring for their children, and how these conditions are created and negotiated in organisations. Our research is based on three case studies comparing pairs of companies active in the Czech Republic and in Germany, France, or Sweden, operating in the field of engineering. The goal is to explore in depth the conditions that Czech working parents are faced with and that derive from the company’s organisational processes and the means and dynamics of negotiating conditions for working parents. We chose to conduct qualitative sociological case studies as case studies of companies that operate in several countries give us the opportunity to capture the links between the level of state social policy and the level of policies and practices in organisations.

Joan Acker’s description of ‘gendered organisations’ outlines the gender differences and inequalities that permeate the whole organisational structure and all its processes [1990]. Acker claims that ‘[W]ork organizations are critical locations for the investigation of the continuous creation of complex inequalities because much societal inequality originates in such organizations’ [Acker 2006: 441].

In this study we deal with how these various organisational gender regimes [Connell 2002; Acker 2006] and the meanings and practices of work and care and attitudes to the gender division of labour in a concrete country [Orloff 1993; Lewis 1997; Ellingsæter 2000] form the organisational environment, policies, and practices for combining work and family life.

Our basic premise is that family-friendly policies and practices in organisations and the working conditions for parents are not and cannot be identical or similar within one company operating in two countries because they are crucially influenced by state social policy. The goal of the paper is to suggest a potential answer to the related questions: ‘What is the source of variability in family-friendly policies and practices in organisations, and what other influences give rise to this variability on top of state social policy?’

The research was also intended to reflect upon another dimension of the Czech transformed labour market – the injection of foreign capital into Czech companies and the operations of branches of foreign companies in the Czech Republic. We questioned whether and how the policy of a Czech firm changes when foreign capital becomes dominant or when a foreign owner buys a company and thus becomes the buyer’s subsidiary. In what ways do the working conditions for working parents differ in the different branches of one company operating in two countries?

In order to find answers to these questions, we selected two companies that have a long tradition of operating abroad within Europe and that in the past decade established distribution branches and began operating in the Czech Republic. And we selected one company in the same industry that has a long history of operating in the Czech Republic as the largest production and distribution firm in its field and was then taken over by a foreign owner and thus creating an international concern.

Three case studies were carried out in three organisations whose parent companies are based in one of the countries of the ‘old’ European Union (EU 15) – Germany, France, Sweden – with a subsidiary in the Czech Republic. These companies are all prominent in the field of engineering.

The research was conducted at the end of 2006 and the start of 2007 using semi-structured interviews with the same thematic outline in the parent company and its Czech subsidiary. The interviews were conducted with human resource staff, representatives of unions, and with employees-parents of young children. Moreover, the interview was accompanied by a brief questionnaire with the goal of mapping individual family-friendly measures offered by the organisation. Data collection was supplemented with the study of documents that were made available to us during the interviews and through contacts within the organisations. Relevant documents concerning family-friendly policies and programmes or collective agreements made it possible for us to gain an insight into the range of institutionalised measures adopted.

The three case studies helped us identify the following six main interlinked factors relating to the variability of family-friendly policies and practices in organisations: the concrete welfare policy setting (1), ranging between universalism and familiarism and creating the gendered frame for the operation of organisations; parental (motherhood) ideologies (2) as ideas about what constitutes ‘proper’ parenthood (motherhood); the organisational culture of non- discrimination and equal opportunities (3); the activity of actors (4) in work relations because, at the level of organisations we can still discern a culture of employee passivity the unwillingness of employers to offer family-friendly measures and flexible working models, and the ‘blind’ acceptance of top-down measures; the role of trade unions (5) in negotiation of working conditions at the organisational level; and finally it emerged that practical experience of the organisation with their employees as parents (6) is important for building a family-friendly organisational environment.

This type of qualitative approach can be used as complementary to the analysis of employer-employee data in a comparative research on organizational production of inequalities.


This research has been published: Kříěková, A., Maříková, H., Dudová, R., & Sloboda, Z. (2009). The Conditions of Parenthood in Organisations: An International Comparison. Sociologický časopis/Czech Sociological Review, 45(3), 519–547.


Acker, J. 1990. ‘Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations.’ Gender and Society2: 139–158.

Acker, J. 2006. ‘Inequality Regimes: Gender, Class, and Race in Organizations.’ Gender and Society20: 441–464.

Connell, R. W. 2002. Gender.Malden: Blackwell Publishers.

Ellingsæter, A. L. 2000. ‘Welfare States, Labour Markets and Gender Relations in Transition.’ Pp. 89–110 in Gender. Welfare State and the Market: Towards a New Division of Labour, edited by T. P. Boye and A. Leira. London: Routledge.

Lewis, J. 1997 ‘Gender and Welfare Regimes: Further Thoughts.’ Social Politics4: 160–177.

Orloff, A.S. 1993. ‘Gender and the Social Rights of Citizenship. State Policies and Gender Relations in Comparative Research.’ American Sociological Review 58 (3): 303–28.