I just don’t buy the fact that thousands of women are desperate to break the glass ceiling. In the last 15 years of working with women, I’ve met very few of these high-flyers. I’ve met lots of MBAs who became mothers and then ran away from inflexible employers. I’ve met lots of young women gung-ho early in their careers, who reconsider aiming for the C-suite after Child #1 or Child #2. I’ve met a big crowd of women who started to make cracks in the corporate glass ceiling and then decided they wanted a career with more independence and more meaning. And I’ve met a growing cohort of women at many different ages who now realize that they can’t juggle the more than full-time job as they commandeer care for up to four aging parents.
In fact, I’ll go so far as to make a provocative, yet what many may perceive as a counter-feminist statement: Few women today have the desire or family bandwidth to work in the C-Suite. Most women want and need less life-consuming, but consistent flexible work that accommodates child and aging parent caregiving roles—and ensures long-term financial security.
The desire for flexibility is not new—but the probability of landing a flexible job is rapidly on the rise. What was once in the shadows as one-off flexibility deals is now becoming more visible, acceptable—and at times even preferable—for employers of every shape and size.
- Flexibility exists in some form at 80% of U.S. companies, including either widespread initiatives or individual employee arrangements. (Note that “exists” does not necessarily mean “clearly visible”.)
- 43% of U.S. full-time workers now “telecommute” (work from home at least one day a week).
- Professional-level part-time telecommuting positions jumped 31% just from 2014 to 2015.
- 55 million Americans are freelancers (or “agile workers” able to make money on their own terms), now accounting for 35% of the U.S. workforce, and their share of the labor market could grow to 50% by 2020.
- The largest (but still relatively unknown) flexible work job board, FlexJobs, posts flexible jobs across 55 job categories.
Though these numbers show that thousands of women are now unchained from employer desks, flexibility remains an employee benefit in an awkward adolescent stage. Most employers struggle to institutionalize work structures that have little uniformity, and flexibility is not a feature in many employee handbooks. Flexibility is inconsistent across industries—widely granted at technology companies, for example, and still hard to penetrate in investment banking and financial services as a whole. Some job functions bend easily to fewer hours and work at home, and others require more face time than many women are willing to give. There’s still a lot of uncharted territory: Most women are forced to advocate for and find their ideal flexible jobs on their own.
Standing up to the corporate hierarchy—especially one that includes hoards of men who work around the clock with no complaint—is no easy task for women. Thinking that they are showing weakness asking for a softer schedule, they make low-voltage requests to, say, work from home on Fridays rather than a comprehensive, professional pitch for flexibility. If women reach a brick wall in an industry, company or job where flexibility has an icicle’s chance in hell, they do not know where to find more forward-thinking employers. Similarly, women who have left the workforce assume there is only one way to work—and delay returning to what they expect will be the traditional corporate grind.
Though women know well that most corporations have yet to institutionalize flexibility across a large workforce, many don’t realize that less traditional work structures are common at small to mid-size companies in every industry. Changes in required health care coverage (yet to be changed in the Trump administration), for example, have forced many smaller employers to rethink their hiring strategy—leading to fewer full-time hires, a contingent workforce they can dial up or down and part-time employees who can focus more productively on very specific roles.
Few companies of any size, however, make broad proclamations about flexible opportunities. It is considered a Pandora’s box of sorts—an invitation to perhaps less qualified job seekers favoring flexibility over company fit. Since flexible work opportunities are not widely publicized—and media coverage of success stories is few and far between—women too easily assume they are nearly impossible to find. There’s no instant way of knowing which companies have a culture of flexibility, and we hear more about the big household name companies that require 80-hour work weeks and force women out in droves.
The best way to find flexibility is the same as the best way to find a job—through thorough and strategic networking. And a great new short-cut has just emerged: Fairygodboss (a marketplace where professional women looking for jobs, advice, and the inside scoop on companies meet employers who believe in gender equality) just launched a Work-Life Balance Guide. The crowdsourced database aims to help women find employers who offer the flexible working policies, and jobs they’re interested in – even from companies who don’t openly share that information. In 2015, Fairygodboss made waves by introducing the first-ever crowdsourced database of parental leave policies, since less than 10% of Fortune 100 employers publish their maternity leave policies.
The Work-Life Balance Guide will allow women to search specific companies or industries to see which employers offer part-time, telecommuting jobs or flexible working policies. Additional insights such as compressed workweeks, allowances for some work-from-home days, or flexible workday start and end times will also be easily searchable in the database.
Wow. This is big…and great. Every day it becomes easier and easier to find the work that fits your life.
Kathryn Sollmann of 9 Lives for Women advises current and returning professional women, wealth management firms and corporate HR, diversity and wellness teams on work+life issues. A frequent speaker, she offers workshops and online courses to help women make work fit life at every age/life stage for long-term financial security. Follow her on Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook.