Companies making flex-time respectable

… by portraying it as “macho”? A radical idea! If all employees are likely to demand flexible hours and paid family leave, then women are less likely to be penalized for taking advantage of these policies. The Wall Street Journal (subscription req’d) reports today that some companies, including the Manhattan accounting firm Ernst & Young, are attempting to do just that.

Some employers are trying to overcome a perceived stigma on flexible work schedules — often viewed as a concession to women — by redefining the issue as a quality-of-life concern for everyone. The approach is gaining traction, especially in the male-dominated financial-services sector, where employers have long struggled to retain and promote women.

While flex-time and other family-friendly policies have long been touted as a way for women to get ahead in the corporate world, they often carry the “mommy track” stigma, making many women reluctant to take advantage of these options.

In a survey of 2,443 women college graduates released by her center and the Harvard Business Review, 35% of respondents thought they would be penalized for taking advantage of their employer’s work-life policies. … about two-thirds of professional women who stop working would stay if they had a “recognized and respectable” way to scale back. [...]
“We want to make flexibility gender-neutral, so everyone wants to take advantage,” says Maryella Gockel, the firm’s flexibility-strategy leader.

Ernst & Young — which has a flexibility-strategy leader and amenities like on-site child care — is leaps and bounds ahead of many other firms that still lack basic flex-time options. But their thinking on this, that employees (regardless of gender) should create schedules, hours and career tracks to fit their personal needs, might have a positive effect on the way other companies (even those that are significantly smaller) approach work-life policies. After all, this isn’t just some feminist group releasing yet another report calling for women-friendly workplaces. It’s a huge company that’s already instituting these changes and attempting to do so in a gender-neutral fashion, which in my opinion makes it a much more concrete step in the right direction.
The Center for Work-Life Law, which recently published the media-analysis report debunking the “growing trend” of women opting out, has loads of resources on workplace flexibility for men and women.

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