As the official launch of my book nears, Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead, my premise that all women can work in a flexible way draws enthusiasm, relief and a bit of skepticism, too. Women who have experience in traditionally rigid industries (finance, law, or medicine, for example) wonder if it’s really true. And women in remote areas say it’s hard to find work of any kind—let alone work with a non-traditional schedule.
The fact is, though, that women are finding flexibility in just about all industries. Take a look at the “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers”. These are in many cases household name companies in many different industries: healthcare, technology, management consulting, finance, accounting, pharmaceutical, consumer products, public relations, travel & leisure and more. All these companies are changing corporate culture and offering all employers—both men and women—some form of flexible work.
In my coaching practice I’ve had a disproportionately high percentage of “recovering attorneys” who left the partner track when demanding schedules did not blend with their family lives. Now the “60 Best Law Firms for Women” shows that all the big firms my clients left have changed their stripes—now creating workplaces that are more accommodating (without penalty) for working mothers.
Even in medicine women are working in a flexible way. I know an anesthesiologist and mother of two who veered off from the big hospital route and works three days a week for a local surgical practice. She has never stopped practicing medicine, she has to keep up with all the latest technology and she has also volunteered in her children’s schools and found a way to blend professional work and life. She earned her degrees from top medical schools and she feels that she’s ambitious, but she does not need to head a huge hospital anesthesiology department to prove her success. A very highly respected opthalmologic surgeon has the same confidence and sense of self: she operates on patients two days a week and combines her continuing medical education with homework oversight for her two kids.
The other important point, though, is that it’s possible to work in a flexible way for a company that is hundreds—even thousands—of miles from where you live. I wrote about a woman on a remote Wyoming ranch who is a very high-level consultant to a top management consulting firm in New York City and leading university in Boston. She rarely travels to her client locations and often she’s even working from a boat she lives part-time on in the Pacific Northwest. Another woman, an attorney, lives in the Vermont countryside—far from any law firms that boast longstanding prestige. She works for a big New York City law firm on a remote basis, travelling only occasionally and snagging the partner title just the same. A woman in Minnesota provides excellent administrative support to me in Connecticut. And I can’t forget to mention the woman who moved with her family from New York City to Costa Rica. It wasn’t likely that she was going to find many opportunities for professional work in a small Costa Rican surfing town, so she’s now working part-time and remotely for an educational consulting firm based a time zone away in Central Europe.
Today employers recruit for top candidates beyond their immediate area and even far beyond their geographical region. With strategic networking and the help of far-reaching job boards or recruiting firms focused on flexible work (like the job board FlexJobs and firms listed in my Flexwork for Women Alliance), just about anything is possible. Your employment opportunities are not limited if your area is in an economic downturn or if you live in a town that has only a post office and a general store.
If you’re already in a job you enjoy, it’s also very likely you can work out a schedule that fits and funds your life. If you make a professional pitch for flexibility (not just a simple ask to, say, work from home on Fridays) showing how you’ve got all the bases covered and nothing will fall through the cracks, there’s at least an 80% chance that you’ll get it. If you don’t, the very viable Plan B is finding the flexibility you need on a remote basis with an innovative firm looking for a talented person like you somewhere around the globe.