This flexibility story comes to us from Katherine Hubert. Katherine is an engineer, mother of two, and founder of the site onestemforall.com which aims to level the playing field for women in STEM and create a world where men and women can experience the same careers in STEM fields.
Women in STEM are leaving the field at alarming rates and many of them cite not having flexibility in their jobs as the reason they are leaving. Even as we do a better job of getting young women interested in STEM and majoring in STEM fields, we cannot seem to retain them by the ten-year mark. This is why work flexibility is so important—it needs to be used as a retention tool to help keep women in STEM engaged in the workforce and moving forward in their careers.
Without having flexible options in the workplace, many women are deciding to opt out of the workforce altogether when they have families because they don’t see their careers being congruent with being a mother. If there were flexible options, we could level the playing field in STEM fields and we all would benefit from having more women in higher-level roles in STEM. Companies can best serve their customers when they have employees from diverse backgrounds who model their customer base. By having more women in STEM fields, we will be able to think differently and achieve even more progress in the future.
As a woman in engineering who just had her second child, having the ability to go part time has been incredibly valuable to me. It has allowed me to spend more time with my children in their first critical years, while still staying connected to my career and growing my skills at work. I want to be able to show my children the importance of working hard, but also the importance of spending time with your family. By not making it an either/or choice, we can expect better results at the office and happier families at home.
Although having the policies is important, we also must get rid of the stigma associated with work flexibility. Especially for women in STEM fields, there can be a negative association with asking for work flexibility since it is seen as someone not wanting to work as hard. On the contrary, women who are in this situation often work harder to complete their work in a shorter amount of time so that they can focus on their families during time at home. But, until these stigmas go away, it will be difficult to make real progress or have women in STEM feel comfortable asking for flexibility.