On recent long flight I watched the movie, “I Don’t Know How She Does It”. If you feel like your head is a supersonic “To Do” list missile headed for an unknown planet, and you’re trying to hold it all together before opting out of the workforce, you’ve got to see it! It’s cute, funny and cathartic—and it leads me to a “must do” for women seeking flexibility.
I particularly loved the movie’s honesty. It doesn’t romanticize work or motherhood—it tells it like it is. The main character, a working mother named Kate (played by Sarah Jessica Parker), wants both motherhood and a career despite all the pitfalls of her juggling act. She feels stretched to the limit, but she keeps moving ahead and finding solutions because she finds equal stimulation and fulfillment as an investment analyst and as a mother.
After several back-to-back overnight business trips, Kate’s boss tells her on a Friday she needs to leave for another trip on Sunday. This is after she has had great success in launching a new investment service. Emboldened by this success she looks her boss straight in the eye and says “I’m not available on Sunday, but I will go on Monday”. The boss tells her in no uncertain terms that she has to leave on Sunday. Kate says no, he glares, and she says “fire me”.
Now of course, this is just a movie with a happy ending, but the boss realizes that she is serious and backs down. He realizes that there is not a big difference between Sunday and Monday. More importantly, he realizes that Kate is incredibly valuable to the firm—and because of her recent success he grants her more flexibility overall.
For dramatic effect Kate had a simple standoff with her boss and flexibility was granted. In real life there is no such magic. When you ask for flexibility, you have to actively and firmly sell your value to the company. As I wrote in a previous blog, you need to Make A Professional Case for Flexibility.
It can’t just be a conversation or request.
Think of it this way: what if a company was at risk of losing a major client and had to prove their value to save the account? The company would not just tell the client that they have added value. They would prepare a comprehensive presentation that summarized all the reasons why they had added value for the client, including all the bottom line metrics that illustrate success and all the ways that they would add value in the future.
I know that companies are not handing out flexibility, and as a result they have lost a lot of great talent. But it’s not just the shortsightedness of employers that puts women on the off ramp. I think too many women have accepted defeat before making their individual case for flexibility as thoroughly, confidently and professionally as they would deliver any high-level presentation.
- Realize that women have to work hard not only to earn promotions and increase compensation—but also to earn flexibility.
- Continually keep your own documentation of significant achievements and contributions so that it will be easy to communicate your value to your employer.
- Plan your request for flexibility as thoroughly and professionally as a very caliber, high stakes proposal.