I’ve always been the type of person who had enough confidence to ask for the work flexibility that I deserved for myself and my growing family. Some have called me opinionated and some have called me strong-willed. I consider both a compliment.
But I can’t help but think about the people who really need flexibility but are too afraid to ask for any number of different reasons. Maybe flexibility doesn’t exist in their company, maybe their colleagues with flexible schedules struggle to get promotions, or maybe their boss doesn’t believe in flexible work… Whatever their reason (and I’ve heard a lot of them), work flexibility should not just be for the people who have the guts to ask.
When I was pregnant with my first son, I was working in public accounting with at least 50-hour work weeks. I knew that I could not keep up that pace so I negotiated a flexible work arrangement to work at a 60% reduced schedule. But then in the eighth month of my pregnancy, I was told that my 60% reduced schedule would not work for the company and that I needed to work at least 80%. I was furious, frustrated, and super pregnant hormonal. I’m not the type of person who settles for anything less than what I want, so I quit a few weeks later, missing out on two months of paid maternity leave, in order to make a point and take a stand.
A few months after I had given birth, a different department at my former company called me. They had heard what had happened. And guess what? They asked me to come back with a 60% reduced schedule, working with an amazing team—and they even gave me the opportunity to work from home one day a week.
In that moment, I was thrilled but still frustrated at the same time. I felt powerful that I had put my foot down and had the schedule that I had fought to get. But I also thought, why did it have to be this hard? I had struggled with stress and uncertainty during my third trimester and sacrificed thousands of dollars in compensation and paid maternity leave in order to make a point.
And I was one of the lucky ones. I had the financial means to stand up for the work flexibility that I deserved and honestly should not have had to fight for in the first place.
So where do we go from here?
For those of us who are in a position to ask, we keep asking. We make sacrifices in order to make a point. We keep fighting. If each of us asks for the work flexibility that we deserve, then change will happen. Albeit slowing and steadily, but it will happen.
And honestly, it has already begun. With the companies adding employee-wide work flexibility policies because they believe in the value and capabilities of their employees, with the employees fighting for careers that fit with their lives, with the parents leaving the corporate world in droves because they cannot find opportunities with flexibility and freedom, change is in the air. Because we deserve to decide how we work, we deserve to decide when we work, we deserve to have dynamic and purpose-driven careers that allow us to enjoy our families and the rest of our lives.
Work flexibility should not be just for the people who have the guts to speak up. One day, work flexibility will be the new normal. We just have to keep asking.
photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com