July 14, 2014
“He’s a single dad...and he says it’s very obvious. When he asks for flexibility, or telecommuting, before he even finishes the sentence, it’s, “Oh, sure, you do what you need to do.” When his colleagues who are single moms ask for it, forget about. It’s, “Do you really have to go to the appointment? – Rachael Ellison
My latest show, The Motherhood Factor, packs in a lot. Still, you can’t get everything into a podcast. My conversation with executive coach Rachael Ellison covered so much that's relevant to people's working lives, I’m breaking some of it out in a couple of blog posts.
This one focuses on that holy grail: workplace flexibility.
Last year the Yale School of Management sent me a press release about a study they did that said women, regardless of their status (executive level or hourly worker) are less likely to be granted some kind of flextime than men. The study essentially said women are still regarded suspiciously when they ask for time off, no matter the reason.
Rachael knows one dad who works for the government whose experience bears out that research.
“He’s a single dad and he works with single moms,” she says. “And he says it’s very obvious. When he asks for flexibility, or telecommuting, before he even finishes the sentence, it’s, “Oh, sure, you do what you need to do.” When his colleagues who are single moms ask for it, forget about. It’s, “Do you really have to go to the appointment? Is it absolutely necessary?”
Which suggests a depressing double standard that reflects what Rachael talked about in the show: that when some women go back to work after maternity leave their bosses assume they're bound to slack off now they have a child.
“But I spoke to another dad, and he was saying he’s just terrified to ask for flexibility. Like…why should he have a need to ask for it?” The way this guy saw it, she says, “Women advocate for themselves. He almost feels like it’s not his place to put those needs out there in the workplace.”
Hello to more ingrained gender assumptions: that’s it’s not OK for a guy to speak up for his outside-work needs at work. He has to be all worker, all the time. But it’s OK for a woman to advocate for her needs, because she’s a mom, and being a mom comes first when you’re female (while also undermining your credibility in the workplace).
The key to getting some degree of flexibility, Rachael says, regardless of your sex, is in the ask.
Often, she says, by the time parents summon the gumption to ask a supervisor about flexibility, they’re exhausted and desperate. They may blurt out something like, “I just need to see more of my kid!”, which is more about their own needs than the company’s. If they do, chances are they’ll be met with a ‘no’. She says it’s key to frame your ask in a way that makes it clear the company is getting something out of this as well – to be able to step back, think about the possibilities for you and the company, then present your case.
Some women need to be encouraged to see these areas of compromise in the first place.
“I think a lot of the challenges around seeing these possibilities are caught up in a lot of these women’s understanding of who they were as professionals before [they had kids],” says Rachael. “And their unwillingness to compromise, and their willingness to give 150% at their job.”
There is often a path forward, she says. You just have to find it, then be willing to take it.