In an article in the Wall Street Journal this morning, Rebecca Johnson, a dean at the Marine Corps War College, writes about something IWF has long preached and practiced: flexibility for working mothers.
Ms. Johnson's thoughts were prompted by the mixed reactions she received when she took her infant daughter to a professional conference–some colleagues pointedly ignored the child, while some made sure to tell Johnson they were "proud" of her for being "brave" enough to bring the child to a conference. Johnson tweeted on the response and the tweet went viral.
This led to discussions with other mothers in the workforce. Johnson realized that what mothers need if they are to work successfully is flexibility in the workplace and recognition of their professional commitment:
In subsequent discussions with women concerning what it would mean for organizations to “get comfortable with motherhood,” two themes emerged: Working moms need flexibility in how they get their job done, and they want recognition of their professional commitment and abilities. To the extent organizations can meet these two needs, they are well-positioned to retain female talent and enjoy the advantages of a diverse leadership team.
Hands down, the greatest need working mothers articulate is for increased flexibility at work. People, particularly women, lose significant control over their daily lives when they become parents. Day care won’t take kids with fevers. Children with chronic health issues or developmental challenges can spend a lot of time at appointments. Snow days, teacher work days, a sick babysitter—any of these can require a quick change in a working mom’s day.
Working mothers recognize their responsibility to meet their organization’s mission. “Flexibility” does not mean absolution from responsibility. It may mean having the ability to work from home, video-conference to a meeting, work fewer but longer days each week, or another arrangement that allows the mom to get the job done without needing to be in the office during business hours every day.
Companies can make organizational shifts to support flexibility—using a project-based, as opposed to hours-based, system of personnel accounting; providing child care on-site to reduce commute time; providing hospital-grade pumps in lactation rooms with locking doors at multiple points across the organization.
Some forms of flexibility are job sharing and allowing working mothers to reduce their responsibilities and compensation so they can have more time for children but to remain in the workforce. It is also important, Johnson says, that prejudice against working mothers be countered by recognizing their achievements. When colleagues realize these women are doing their share (and more), it will be beneficial to theproject of promoting workplace flexibility.
Flexibility and recognition are the keys to working mothers’ ability to thrive. While these insights are hardly revolutionary, they could bring significant change to organizations that take them seriously. The greatest change will be more highly qualified, high-performing women in positions of authority—and a more welcoming environment for my daughter when she reaches working age.
This is something we know a lot about at IWF. I don't have children but I know from working with IWF's high-achieving young women who do have children that flexibility and recognition are beneficial both to these women and to our organization.