More Flexibility Needed in the Workplace, Say Career Moms
For many parents, especially working moms, juggling extracurricular activities with doctor’s appointments, parent-teacher meetings, and household chores—all while trying to maintain their career—is a daily reality.
Balancing time spent at the office and at home can be tough, and just about every working mother has experienced the “mommy guilt syndrome” when unable to spend enough quality time with the kids.
In the quest for a better work/life balance, moms are looking for more flexibility in the workplace. In fact, according to studies in both Canada and the U.S., working mothers say they would take a pay cut in return for a more flexible work schedule.
Being a working parent herself, Sarah Fowles of Connect Moms, an organization that links professional working mothers with progressive “family-friendly” employers, was already well aware of the importance of flexibility.
But a recent survey by Connect Moms, along with momcafe, and Briefcase Moms, showed overwhelmingly that flexibility is high on the minds of professional working mothers.
“When we actually did the survey and we got all this fantastic feedback from all these moms, that was the big thing that came out. What we’re really advocating for is that moms don’t necessarily want part time work—a lot of them need to work full time or want to work full time but they need that flexibility,” says Fowles, who also works as an online strategist.
Ninety two percent of survey respondents said they would like a “flexible work environment” including the ability to leave early or arrive late to the office, work from home or in transit, negotiate a shorter or condensed workweek, and bank time to take extra days off as needed.
Fifty four percent indicated they would be willing to take a reduction in salary in exchange for flexibility and other support programs.
Connect Moms, momcafé, and Briefcase Moms work together to help educate and connect progressive employers with professional moms seeking more balance between work and home.
The three organizations represent more than 10,000 corporate, entrepreneurial (self-employed), and stay-at-home moms across the country.
Fowles says that while many companies are more receptive to the idea of flexibility today than they were even a few years ago and are offering “interesting alternatives,” working mothers still have to advocate for change themselves.
“I have seen a big shift in that area, but I think that the big thing that a lot of moms have to realize is that you have to ask—you need to be just as proactive as a progressive employer is. You need to advocate for what you need to make it work as well.”
Fifty seven percent of the 261 respondents to the online survey have a combined annual household income greater than $100,000. Forty six percent have an undergraduate degree and 25 percent have a masters degree. Fifty percent have two children.
Jill Earthy, co-founder of momcafe, says some companies are recognizing that “there is this talent out there” that is not being fully utilized and that they need to make some changes in order to attract those women and retain them.
She says the main purpose of the survey is to educate employers while at the same time letting women know that there are more options available.
A parent of two children aged two and four, Earthy is executive director of a non-profit organization that supports women entrepreneurs. She also runs momcafe as a private venture with a business partner.
“I wear two hats … but I have a lot of flexibility which is definitely the key,” she says, adding that the group identified in the survey probably all work in some capacity between 40 and 60 hours a week.
Earthy says that after their maternity leave expires, many career moms choose entrepreneurship because “they truly feel” there’s not an option for them to return to the corporate world.
In her job as marketing manager for a professional sports organization, Lisa Nevar-Landsmann was spending 17 consecutive days away in November, a week in February, a week in June, and numerous weekends and late nights at the office the rest of the year.
With a two-year-old-son she was finding it a bit much, she says, and in that male-dominated industry there wasn’t any structure in place to allow flexibility for working mothers. So Nevar-Landsmann quit her job and began a business teaching yoga to moms and tots.
“I need to know that I can be home to pick up my son from programs or that I'm not going to be working very late hours so that I get home after he's already gone to bed. I can choose my schedule now,” she says.
Although her income dropped significantly, Nevar-Landsmann says she doesn’t regret the move because she’s doing something she’s passionate about. In the meantime, extravagances or large-scale projects or plans have become long-term goals.
“I wanted a strong relationship with my son at the time in his life when his parents are the most important people in his world,” she says.
In a study in the U.S. by CareerBuilder.com, 38 percent of working moms said they would take a pay cut if it meant they could spend more time with their kids. One in three said they are dissatisfied with their work/life balance.
However, with companies facing a shrinking pool of qualified labor, CareerBuilder.com says many are offering everything from mother's rooms and flexible work schedules to job sharing and onsite daycare.
Big multinational companies have the infrastructure to do this, says Fowles, and there are many more of them in the U.S. than in Canada. On the other hand, American career moms do not have the extended maternity leave that’s available in Canada.
Taking advantage of more flexible work arrangements does not negatively impact womens’ progress in their careers, says Earthy. She points out that fathers and even those who don’t have children can also benefit from more flexibility.
“There is so much going on in the world now, you want to have that flexibility … I couldn’t do what I do without my husband having flexibility in his job as well.”