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Debate Continues on Whether Women Can Have it All

As long as companies cling to rigid 9-to-5 schedules and penalize employees for taking time off for their kids, parents –mostly mothers – will be forced to make difficult choices about their careers and families.

September 18, 2012

Gen X women were raised to believe that balancing high-powered careers with raising a family was not only doable but also it was expected of any woman with ambition. But they soon discovered this version of "having it all" usually meant sacrificing family time for work time, and many woman today aren't willing to make the same compromises.

Anne-Marie Slaughter's powerful piece, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" in the Atlantic demonstrates how difficult the work-life balancing act actual is for women. Slaughter gave up a prestigious government job to spend more time at home with her sons when she found she was missing out on many of their critical milestones.

"I still strongly believe that women can 'have it all,' " she writes. "But not today, not with the way America's economy and society are currently structured."

As long as companies cling to rigid 9-to-5 schedules and penalize employees for taking time off for their kids, parents—mostly mothers—will be forced to make difficult choices about their careers and families. Either work full-time and miss out on much of the kid stuff, take less-meaningful part-time jobs or quit working altogether.

What these companies may not realize is the benefit they are giving up by not offering flexible options to the new generation of workers. Employees want flextime work arrangements, and a growing number of them will pay for the privilege.

Almost half (45 percent) of working adults say they would give up some percentage of their salary for more flexibility at work, according to Mom Corps' second annual Labor Day poll on work opportunities. And that willingness to sacrifice is growing. The survey shows they would give up nearly 9 percent of their wages for flextime benefits, compared with 6 percent in last year's survey.

In exchange for that flexibility, they are happier, more loyal employees, according to data from the Families and Work Institute, or FWI. It's 2012 report on families and work shows employees in flexible workplaces are more likely to have greater engagement in their jobs, higher levels of job satisfaction, and stronger intentions to remain with their employers.

"Organizations that fail to adopt these [flexible] options run the risk of being outperformed by competitors who benefit from lower operating costs and better adaptation to a global knowledge—and service-based economy," write the authors of the FWI report.

Amy Baxter, CEO of MMJ Labs, a small Atlanta-based manufacturer of pain-relief devices, is one of the corporate leaders benefiting from this desire for flexwork options. All of her seven employees take advantage of flexible-work options, including part-time hours if they want them, and the opportunity to work from home.

In exchange, she has a staff of employees with impeccable résumés, who are willing to take a lot less than they would make in their career professions. "I sometimes feel guilty that I can't pay them more, but it's a trade-off," Baxter says.

She is clear with all of her job candidates that she's offering a lower wage in exchange for flexibility and an opportunity to have a leadership role in the business, and she has never faced any shortage of applicants.

Office manager, Ashli Romeyn, for example, works six hours a day in the MMJ office, managing payroll, bookkeeping, and back-office needs. And if she needs an afternoon to take her kids to the doctor or to volunteer at school, Baxter supports her.

"It's a perk of the job," Romeyn says. "I don't feel anxiety about taking care of my kids, and I know that if I ever decide to go back to full time, this experience will transition easily."

Such flexibility isn't hard to accommodate, Baxter adds. "With all the technological advances in the world today, any company could do this. You just have to commit yourself to making it happen."

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.