Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why Workplace Flexibility Makes Economic Sense

There are moms that work, and moms that stay at home. Then there are the moms that stay at home but carry a substantial workload on top of it. I am one of these hybrid WAHMs, waking with the little ones to pour bowls of cereal and sticking around the house to ask how school went at the end of the day. I do drop-offs, clean-ups, hand-holding, blogging and editing -- all in a day's work.


Work, stay home... or both?
My husband and I have toyed with the idea of me going "back to work" in a full-time, away-from-the-house sort of way but always arrive at the same conclusion: if I'm making enough money right here at the house, why mess up the system? Keeping me out of the workforce completely was never an option based on his salary and our combined bills.

My husband is also home a lot. He works in the evenings and on weekends (often from right here at home), freeing him up to help with the daily kid routine. 

Growing up, I always envisioned myself as a stay-at-home mom, probably because that is what my own mom did until I was a teenager. After earning a college degree, working a few years, and oh yeah, becoming a single mom -- my perspective on staying at home changed. 

I was fortunate enough to work in the office on a very minimal basis during the first 18 months of my daughter's life so I had the best of both worlds.

When faced with the choice to drop that flexible schedule for a full-time, in-office spot (that paid much better and was near my own parents), I took the new job. It was what was the best choice for my family (which was just my daughter and I) at the time and I did not feel guilty. I disliked the long hours in the office and the child care bills, but I knew that it was best for both of us.

That all changed when I got married and gained an insta-family overnight. I interviewed for a few jobs when I first moved following the wedding, some of which could have feasibly been done from home at least part-time, and turned them down when my request for flexible scheduling was denied. I had some freelance leads and some money saved up to get started down that path so I just went my own way.


Since that time, I've talked to a lot of other moms like me that have faced the whole stay-at-home/go-back-to-work debacle too. Most are at least a little bit torn either direction. Sixty percent of moms that return to work wish that their jobs had a flexible scheduling option that included some from-home time, or less than 40-hour choices. Of the moms that take a break, even for one year, from their career, 73 percent report having a "tough time" landing a job and re-entering the workforce when they are ready. For each family, there is a "better" choice, but for most women, it is never an easy one either way.

I recently read an article by Sallie Krawcheck via the LinkedIn article network. In it, she discusses the need for flexibility in scheduling for women and refers to inflexible, rigid "in-office" options as the contemporary glass ceiling. Of course, many dads probably also wish for more flexibility in scheduling but Sallie points out that despite modern thinking, women still do twice the housework and three times the child rearing of their male counterparts. She claims that if the workforce were to fully embrace women -- through efforts like workplace flexibility through child-rearing years -- the Gross Domestic Product would increase by at least 9 percent. 

She believes, as do I, that extending flexibility to moms in working terms should not be viewed as an inconvenience, but rather a way to strengthen the American economy. More women than ever are college educated and since many wait until later in life to start a family, they hold a valuable spot in their industries by the time kids come along. Companies lose more than warm bodies occupying cubicles -- they lose years of expertise and the potential revenue that accompanies them.

It is not just women's families that miss out economically when they face an "all or nothing" route when it comes to parenting and kids; as a culture, we all suffer the void left by women that feel they must leave their jobs to meet family responsibilities. It is one thing to take the time off because you have considered the emotional and financial merit; it is another to feel forced into it. 

I think that the technology is there to make many (not all) jobs at least somewhat flexible for families that need it. The Department of Labor unveiled a workplace flexibility toolkit for employers back in October designed to help companies better accommodate employees that need it due to family responsibilities, educational studies or disabilities. The next step is for employers to feel that this is equally valuable. That will start with women, though, and our own ability to express what we want and deserve as valued members of the workforce. 
  
You can contact Katie by emailing her at katie@mumblingmommy.com.


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