One night I walked into my home after work and my two young children were asleep for the night. I had left when they were sleeping and returned when they were sleeping. Although I loved my job, I considered quitting. Instead, I asked my manager for a reduced schedule. I got what I wanted but from that point on, I was shoved into a different category at work, someone who had received an accommodation.
Twenty years ago, that was the definition of flexibility, an accommodation for a working mom. Today, flexibility is much more than an accommodation. It is THE one thing that can make the difference in a working mother’s life and smart employers make it a critical component of their corporate culture.
Mothers who don’t have flexibility struggle every day with holding jobs and raising their children, and often quit when they are unable to sort out the conflicts. There is no substitute for being able to come in later or leave earlier to handle a childcare responsibility.
Recently, I asked the CEO of a real estate company how she balances her job, her community involvement on two non-profit boards, and her two children. She scoffed and told me not to ask her that question. “I have flexibility. I have help at home. It’s people who don’t have flexibility like my assistant who really deserves to be asked that question.”
These days, flexibility could be coming into work a little earlier and leaving a little earlier to make it to the daycare on time. It could be working from home in the morning to avoid rush hour, or working from home once a week. It could be taking a longer lunch to go to a parent/teacher conference. Or leaving the office on time to have dinner with the family and finishing up work later in the evening. Those who have flexibility will tell you it’s what they love most about their jobs.
One Mother’s Day, I wrote a front page article about single mothers in Miami Dade who were living on the poverty line. One of the mothers I featured barely spoke English, had no car, and worked two jobs. She would wake up at 5 a.m. walk her son to school, work in a restaurant, walk a mile to pick her son up from school, walk home and then walk to a second job in a laundromat where she would work until midnight. One day, her son was receiving an award at school. She felt such pride and desperately wanted to be there to see him get it, but she couldn’t afford to have her pay docked if she took time off. Her plight tugged at my heartstrings when I realized how fortunate I was as a working mother to be able to take an hour off work to see my son receive an award at school.
Through that Mother’s Day story and dozens of others, I have seen firsthand that there are many women who want better lives and work tirelessly to get them. They are more than willing to work hard and be loyal employees. All they need is a little flexibility from their employer to make their work life balance fall into place.
There has been a long list of studies trumpeting the virtues of flexible working – benefits for the employee and employer. Fortunately, some employers “get it.” When possible, they are embedding flexibility into their culture and encouraging managers to allow it at all levels — even with the minimum wage workers. My wishes for Mother’s Day are that women who need flexibility receive it so they can be the best employees and the best mothers they can be.
Happy Mother’s Day!