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August 01, 2007

Silicon Valley Moms Weigh In On Flexible Work Issues in The Mercury News

Sue Hutchison of The Mercury News has been continuing a conversation with contributors of the Silicon Valley Moms Blog and other local parents about the alleged "mommy wars" - staying at home vs. working in an office - for a few months now. I had responded to her inquiry a while back via email and we corresponded about talking by phone, but somehow our schedules never meshed. During our email and phone tag, I gave her permission to quote me from what I'd written in email.

Soon after our exchange, Sue published her first article on this topic, "Off to work or stay at home? The battle is still raging," where she quoted Beth B. about how she felt there is some tension in this respect, but that "it's really about moms who are trying to find the right career-home balance." The article still emphasized the apparent "rift" and focused on the guilt many mothers feel when trying to justify their decisions. She also called the issue that's been so over-hyped in the media the "Cold War of the Affluent Mommies," although I don't think this issue affects just those who have the ability to choose, and guessing Hutchison would agree with me.

A month or so later, a member of one of the playgroups I occasionally attend with my daughter said she'd seen me quoted in the Merc, so I tracked down an article from a few weeks previous where Sue was continuing the dialogue in her next piece, "Celebrate, don't criticize motherhood challenges", where she also quoted Nicole about how parents pass judgments upon one another. Hutchison wrote about how I felt more moms seek part-time and flexible work choices.

Hutchison followed this by writing, "Who says that motherhood is supposed to be a one-size-fits-all job? Who says that what's right for your family has to be right for someone else's?" Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. Before I had a baby, I had all of these opinions about what was the right thing to do for children and what's not, and then I became a mom and decided it completely depends on the family. I met moms with 4 kids who work full-time and I met moms with one kid who stay at home and I learned not to criticize - every child, parent and family's needs are unique.

For our family, we decided based on what I needed for myself, what felt right for our daughter, and how it all interconnected in terms of finances, health and our long-term goals. We went with it, knowing that our plan might change in two months or two years, but that we were putting conscious effort into the planning. For me, part-time work means writing and consulting from a home office or occasionally from client offices. It may mean 15 hours of "work" one week and 45 another, but that depends on my client load and when certain meetings occur. It works well with my young daughter at home so I can spend a significant amount of quality time with her and still continue with my career. And I'd venture to say that many other "mommybloggers" have a similar setup.

This morning, Beth B. called me up and asked, "did you know you were in The Mercury News today?" I was busy with my daughter, preparing to take her to the park before working on an article, so I told her I hadn't seen it. It turns out that something I said - that there's a "silent but growing majority" of moms who work part-time - struck a chord because research came out a couple weeks after that echoing what I had written. Hutchison writes, "A few weeks after Granger e-mailed me about this in June, Pew Research Center published a survey showing that many more working mothers would prefer part-time work if they could get it."

Here are two more things I wrote in my email to Sue that were not quoted in the articles: "Thanks to groups like the Flexibility Alliance and Moms Rising, the concerns of needing greater options for women are increasing.  This is the difficult issue now." Hutchison noted in today's article that Catalyst also works in this area. I then explained further: "Some moms love working full time and other moms love staying at home, but most people I know would prefer some sort of mix and there just aren't enough options out there to make it happen.  If you include volunteer work, there are even more moms in the middle but since it's unpaid, it doesn't get counted." I think a lot of moms volunteer both because they want to make an impact through philanthropic endeavors and because the kind of meaningful work they want to do is difficult to find in most paid work environments.

Today's article, "Employers benefit when mothers have job flexibility," is also right on the money, literally. Hutchison delves into how "Not only is it difficult to persuade many employers to grant a part-time schedule, part-time workers are likely to face discrimination." Sad, but true. Most companies do "balk at offering employees more flexibility." I've seen it. She later writes that although "offering flex-time has been proven to reduce turnover and boost productivity, overseeing part-timers is more work." I've also seen this. But as someone who's been a manager in a variety of organizations with flexible options, I think that managing part-timers is only difficult when corporate policies and practices make it this way. It's much easier to do this kind of thing in smaller, more flexible organizations where piles of paperwork and processes aren't encumbering the ability to manage.

Something else Sue wrote: "Recent research shows not only that it's worth it, but offering more flexible hours is becoming essential for the bottom line." I've been saying this for years. It's all about competitiveness. Here we are going overseas and hiring people without visas, going through that exhausting process or outsourcing to subcontractors when we have a perfectly qualified, enthusiastic work force right under our noses in people who either need and/or want to work part-time due to parenting, health or other personal reasons. It makes no sense (or cents) that our businesses are not capitalizing on this huge pool of resources right here.

This post is already getting too long to go into the other related issues like equal pay, healthcare and mobile offices, but I'm really glad that the need for more flexible workplace options is finally getting more attention and I want to thank Sue Hutchison for writing about it.

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