How Moms Get on Track
You'll need to pick jobs carefully, pay dues, then negotiate
A full-time job doesn't have to destroy all hope of family dinners or afternoon playtime. Women can increase their chances of getting on the new mommy track through successful negotiation both at work and at home.
After lawyer Lindsay Androski Kelly, 30, decided she would work only at a firm that allowed flexible hours, she specifically asked about family-friendly policies during job interviews. At her current firm, Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel in Washington, D.C., she was told there were no face-time requirements, as long as the work got done.
While Kelly's approach worked for her, Michelle Goodman, author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube, warns against asking for flexibility too early, before proving oneself on the job. "You do need to pay your dues a little bit," she says. She recommends researching companies ahead of time to find out whether they're known for family-friendly arrangements.
Pat Katepoo, founder of WorkOptions.com, which offers guidance on achieving customized work arrangements, suggests first pitching a trial period. "Even if [supervisors] are nervous about a nontraditional arrangement, they will feel some sense of control if there's a backdoor option for stopping it." Putting the proposal in writing with clear explanations of how the job will still get done also helps, Katepoo says. In her experience, if employees have worked for a manager for at least one to two years, are reliable performers, and have a trusting relationship with their manager, they have an 80 percent chance of at least getting a trial period.
Regardless of the schedule, setting boundaries—such as having a policy against meetings after 5 p.m.—is key, says Mary Ann Mason, coauthor of Mothers on the Fast Track: How a New Generation Can Balance Family and Careers. She also urges women not to wait too long before having children. For some fields, especially those that require extensive training such as academia or medicine, it's easier to have small children earlier, rather than during what Mason calls the "make or break" years between ages 30 and 40.
No leverage. Women working in low-skilled jobs, on the other hand, usually find flexibility only by lucking into employers who accept it, says Leslie Morgan Steiner, editor of Mommy Wars. "Men and women at the lowest income levels don't have any leverage," she says.
Women across the economic spectrum benefit from support at home. Leslie Bennetts, author of The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?, encourages women to find a way to continue working throughout motherhood: "Women must insist that their husbands share everything." Many women appear to be doing just that: A University of Maryland study found that the time men spent on housework almost doubled between the 1960s and 1990s, by which time they were doing one third of it.
For women who feel like they're still doing it all, Peggy Orenstein, author of Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids & Life in a Half-Changed World, suggests talking to husbands in a nonaccusatory way about how exhausting doing so much housework is and together making a list of everything each person does and dividing it fairly. "Positive reinforcement is a must," she adds.
You can share your own experiences at www.usnews.com/mommyforum.
This story appears in the September 3, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.