I’ve already told my story of how I failed to make my part time schedule work at a big, traditional, Fortune 500 company. After opening up publicly about where things went off the rails for me, I decided to spend a few weeks talking to other people who work – or have attempted to work – part time or flextime schedules. It turns out (spoiler alert!) that much of what I experienced is far from unique.
Many of the women with whom I spoke (and yes, they were all women – I couldn’t find a single man working a reduced or flex schedule who was willing to talk to me) ended up working full time, or very close to full time, for drastically reduced pay and reduced or zero benefits. Lots of people told me that going part time really meant nothing more than taking a pay cut and occasionally getting the side-eye from coworkers when attempting to leave the office at 4:00 pm.
A smaller number of women manage to work a reduced schedule successfully, usually around the 70-80% level. These women tend to have jobs that involve an element of teamwork, so if they are not physically present at the office, there is someone else who can step in or back them up. They also tend to work in organizations where alternative schedules are, if not commonplace, then at least not glaringly unusual or scandalous.
But even the people who love their part time schedules, and who are very grateful for their part time schedules, have one serious complaint. In fact, this complaint was raised by literally every single person with whom I spoke. Every. Single. Person. So here it is, here’s the tradeoff:
Going part time means zero upward mobility. It cuts off opportunities for advancement, promotion, and leadership at the knees.
Let me be clear here: the women with whom I spoke are all very smart. They all have excellent college degrees, nearly all had graduate degrees, and prior to going part time, these women were working high profile jobs with clear opportunities for growth and advancement. Somewhat ironically, most of them wrote detailed, compelling proposals and even gave presentations in order to get their workplaces to give them the part time schedules in the first place. Lots heard versions of the same speech: “We’re only agreeing to the part time request because we value you so much and we don’t want you to leave.”
Yet these valuable employees are apparently not valuable enough to ever deserve raises or promotions. Ever. One woman told me an infuriating story about having the same conversation about her career path with her boss for three years in a row, where he told her he’d put her up for promotion “next year”. During those same three years, she received no merit increase, no title increase, and watched two junior people whom she had hired and trained be promoted above her.
Here’s the critical part: going part time didn’t make any of these women less brilliant, or less dedicated. I’m going to say that again: going part time didn’t mean these workers were less dedicated. Quite the opposite, in fact. These women all very much care about their careers and the companies for which they work, and want to remain in the workforce.
They simply have scheduling issues. Things like needing to be at school by 5:00 pm at the latest, because that’s when aftercare closes. And needing Friday afternoons off in order to take a child to little league practices, because otherwise the kid can’t be on the team. And needing long lunches on Tuesdays in order to go to standing medical appointments for a child who has an ongoing special need.
I’m not going to go off on a giant tangent here (although you know I could!), but these types of scheduling issues still fall to the mom to handle the vast majority of the time, so it’s the mom who requests the accommodation at work. And in most organizations, it is simply not acceptable for workers to put in less than the 40+ hours of required facetime, regardless of their reasons, or their efficiency, productivity, and quality of work product. In today’s corporate America, asking for anything other than the traditional 9am – 6pm work schedule means Game Over for professional growth.
No matter how good you are.
More on this later, friends.