The New Mommy Track
More mothers win flextime at work, and hubbies' help (really!) at home
On a Tuesday evening in early summer, a very pregnant Lindsay Androski Kelly walked in her door to exuberant shouts of "Mommy! Mommy!" from her 2-year-old son, George. She dropped her laptop in her home office and listened to the boy tell her about his adventures on the playground.
Kelly, a 30-year-old lawyer on track to become partner at her Washington, D.C., law firm, is now on maternity leave with her baby daughter, Vivian. But when she returns to the office, she'll also go back to working part of her 55-hour week at home so she can spend as much time as possible with her children, who have a nanny. And she'll resume her old routine: rising at 5 a.m. to put in a couple of hours before the kids wake up and logging in for an hour or two after they go to sleep. She'll eat breakfast with her family and be home in time to make dinner.
A generation ago, a lawyer in Kelly's situation would probably have felt pressure to put in early mornings and late nights at the office. But Kelly's firm allows employees to work flexible hours. "As long as you get everything done and meet the clients' needs, you can work whatever time of day you like," she says.
Kelly represents a new generation of American mothers who are rejecting the "superwoman" image from the 1980s as well as the "soccer mom" stereotype of the 1990s. Mothers today are more likely to negotiate flexible schedules at work and demand fuller participation of fathers in child raising than previous generations did, giving them more time to pursue their own careers and interests. Some so-called mompreneurs start their own businesses. Nearly 26 percent of working women with children under 18 work flexible schedules, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with 14 percent in 1991.
"Fifteen to 20 years ago, women in suits and sneakers...were playing by the traditional rules of the game, trying to live in a man's world. Now women are saying, 'Screw the rules—the rules didn't work,'" says
Kellyanne Conway, president of the Polling Co., a research firm. Conway, 40, the mother of twins who are almost 3 years old, started her business in 1995, allowing her to set her own hours and occasionally work from home.
Not that it's always easy. Heidi Leigh, 34, a former theater sales manager and mother of a 1-year-old in South Plainfield, N.J., tried to shift her schedule a half-hour earlier in the day so she could get home in time to pick up her son from day care and make dinner. Her boss said no. "He wouldn't allow it, because he didn't want other people to do the same thing," she says.
"More and more companies are hip to [flexibility], but it's still not the norm," cautions Michelle Goodman, author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube.
Art of the deal. While balancing work and family is never simple, Goodman and others who have studied the issue say mothers can increase their chances of getting onto this new mommy track by choosing certain careers, partners, and companies. While a handful of workplaces are making it easier for mothers (and fathers) to meld work with family, many women report that they often need to take matters into their own hands, through skillful negotiation with supervisors or, in some cases, quitting office life and starting their own businesses.
On the company front, 31 percent of organizations allow employees to work from home or off site on a regular basis, and 73 percent allow extended career breaks for family responsibilities, according to a survey by the Families and Work Institute. Best Buy allows some of its corporate employees to set their own hours and work entirely from home. Last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers, a public accounting firm, launched Full Circle, a program for parents that enables them to temporarily stop working for the company but stay in touch through networking and training events. Keeping connected makes it easier for moms to return to work when they're ready. "The thing we know for sure is that women need choices. Our careers are not as linear as men's," says Jennifer Allyn, managing director in the office of diversity.
The company did not start the program out of a spirit of generosity: In 2001, it faced a 24 percent turnover rate. Allyn estimates the cost of losing a client services' employee, which most are, to be around $80,000. So if Full Circle enables one person to return to the firm, she says, the program has paid for itself. Allyn says the turnover rate has already fallen to 15 percent.
Gina Thoma, 43, one of the 25 female participants in the Full Circle program, worked as a senior manager in PricewaterhouseCoopers's San Francisco office until she had three children, including twins, in less than two years. After a series of nannies didn't work out, she and her husband decided one of them needed to stay home, at least temporarily, to restore order to their home life. Despite her time out, Thoma is still on track to become partner after she returns in 2008 or 2009. "I'm determined to make it work," she says.
Thoma's promise of a job after years off is unusual, and even at a company like PricewaterhouseCoopers, participation in the Full Circle program is highly selective. That's what inspired Cathleen Benko, managing principal of talent for Deloitte & Touche, which provides consulting services, to develop a new model that views flexibility as the norm, instead of an exception.
Deloitte's new approach, laid out in Mass Career Customization: Aligning the Workplace With Today's Nontraditional Workforce, coauthored by Benko, personalizes employees' careers to fit their lifestyles. For example, young 20-somethings might have few travel restrictions or work limitations and then add restrictions during childbearing years. Deloitte has already rolled out the program to about one fifth of its workforce; next year it will apply to the whole firm.
Many agencies within the federal government encourage employees to work from home and to have flexible hours. Daniel Green, deputy associate director in the Office of Personnel Management, says such arrangements increase loyalty and motivation among staff. By January 2005, over 140,000 federal employees, or 19 percent of the workforce, teleworked, almost double the number for 2001.
Opting out. Most women don't have access to such corporate and federal programs, and that leads some of them to decide combining motherhood and work is impossible. A recent survey of almost 2,500 high-achieving women by Sylvia Ann Hewlett found that 37 percent of women stop working for a period, or temporarily "opt out" of the workforce. Most of those women would have preferred to have taken a job with reduced or flexible hours if it had been available, says Hewlett, author of Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success.
Leigh, the former theater manager, exemplifies that dilemma. She eventually decided to quit her job to sell advertisements from home on a commission-only basis. She works in the mornings, before her husband leaves for his afternoon shift at a pharmaceutical company. While she'd like to continue to stay home, she isn't sure that will be possible. "Living in New Jersey is really difficult on one income," she says.
Through interviews with women who chose to leave the workplace, Pamela Stone, author of Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home, found that sometimes just small differences, such as the ability to work from home one or two days a month, would have made it possible for women to stay in the workforce. Often, she says, women's flexible arrangements were based on handshake agreements with supervisors; new bosses meant no more flexibility.
Partly as a result of those continuing difficulties, a growing number of mothers are deciding that starting their own business is the answer. On a cool evening in May, dozens of women gathered in lower Manhattan to celebrate the launch of a new magazine, Hybrid Mom. It caters to women who are balancing work and motherhood with a special focus on mompreneurs, or mothers who launch their own businesses. Linda Shapiro, cofounder of Moms-for-Profit, the company that publishes the magazine, says that two thirds of stay-at-home moms start their own businesses, and they want a place to talk about it.
Low-tech solution. Lori Johnson, 34, is one of those moms. After working more than 80 hours a week as a sales account executive in the semiconductor industry, she quit after having her daughter, Avery, just over two years ago. Not willing to return to such a hectic lifestyle, she decided starting her own business out of her home in Concord, Mass., was a "happy medium." She now designs and sells car seat covers. The idea for Hot Toddies Baby Gear came to her after she became frustrated when people mistook her daughter for a boy because she could find only blue seat covers.
Rachel Thebault, 31, started a bakery, Tribeca Treats, in lower Manhattan after realizing that her investment banking job wasn't conducive to being a mother. "I felt like in the long term that was not going to be a job where I felt like I could commit to being successful at my job and also happily raise a family," she says.
Even though she spends up to 80 hours a week working, she does it according to her own schedule. If her nanny calls in sick, then she brings her daughter, Marin, 2
"In some cases," says author Goodman, "[self-employment] is the only way they could fit work life with their personal life." One woman she interviewed for her book was divorced with five school-age children. The cost of day care would have been overwhelming, so she worked from home as a marketer and copywriter instead.
Tamara Monosoff, inventor of a device that stops kids from unraveling toilet paper, wrote Secrets of Millionaire Moms to explain to other moms how to raise capital, develop a business plan, and balance family time with running a business. She started writing about mompreneurs after discovering a high demand from mothers interested in starting their own businesses.
It's a trend that's likely to continue: A 2006 Lifetime Television poll found that the most popular goal among women ages 18 to 29 was to manage their own companies, with 47 percent of respondents choosing it. Yet becoming president of a major corporation was named by only 10 percent of respondents. "Women are trying to have it all but are trying to regain control over their time," says Conway, who helped conduct the poll. "That's why many women are busting out of the traditional workforce and starting their own businesses."
Back at Kelly's house, the pork tenderloin is almost done roasting. Kelly stops into her home office for a quick E-mail check as her husband, George, a real-estate developer, gives their son a bath while speaking to him in his best Sir Topham Hatt impression. For now, at least, Kelly has achieved what she considers an ideal balance.
This story appears in the September 3, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.