Being both a career woman on a modified/flexible schedule and a mother isn’t about having it all—it’s about "having the best of it all," according to participants in Flexible Work Arrangements III, a Catalyst study which tracks 24 women who first used flexible work arrangements more than a decade ago. All of the women now hold mid- and senior-level positions and more than half have earned promotions during the past decade. Most of these women credit the availability of part-time work schedules during critical child-rearing years as the key to maintaining career momentum.
"Findings from this report suggests that even though working mothers may reduce career involvement for a period of time—with the support of the right company—career advancement does not have to get sidelined," said Marcia Brumit Kropf, vice president of Research and Information Services. While half continue to work part time schedules, half have returned to full-time work schedules. Most of the women in this study still work for the same company where they initiated flexible work arrangements a decade ago; they average 18 years in their organizations. All of the women hold mid- and senior-level positions with titles such as Vice President, Partner, and Chief Intellectual Property Counsel.
Most of these women report being satisfied with the career tradeoffs they made in order to gain better work/life balance. In fact, 20 out of 24 say they are satisfied with their non-work lives. Nearly all of the women, part-time professionals and full-timers alike, are satisfied with their current work schedules.
By the end of the 1990s, formal and informal flexibility staked its claim on the American workplace. Most of the women (38 to 52 years old) in this study are married with two to three children, with more than half having toddlers. The birth of their first child was the driving force behind seeking part-time work schedules for most of the women.
Catalyst has found in much of its research that without the ability to set their own pace and create their own career paths, companies are at risk of losing employees that want to keep. In a 1998 Catalyst study (Women Entrepreneurs), 51% of women said a desire for flexibility was the top reason they had left their employers. In another study that same year (Two Careers, One Marriage), 83% of men and 83% of women report they have taken advantage of flexible work arrangements offered by employers. With men no longer at the margins of parenting, work/life balance is increasingly being seen as a "employee issue" and not just a "women’s issue."
"By providing continuity in their career path during the critical child-rearing years, a flexible work schedule is a key factor in helping women achieve their life goals: a challenging career, parenthood and community involvement," said Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst. "If business holds on to talented women when they want flexibility, they can retain valued employees."
Catalyst recommends that companies implement formal policies and guidelines for flexible work arrangements. The commitment and involvement of top management is critical in creating a new culture in which reorganizing work and addressing the work/life balance needs of employees will be successful. As well, by planning for and managing maternity, providing flexibility and making high-quality, affordable child care available, companies can retain top talent, both men and women.
Catalyst is the nonprofit research and advisory organization working to advance women in business. Its dual mission is to enable professional women to achieve their maximum potential and to help employers capitalize fully on the talents of their female employees. For more information about Catalyst, visit our Web site at www.catalystwomen.org or call 212-514-7600