This might be what you call a good news, bad news situation.
Nine in 10 women have used flexible work arrangements at some point in their careers. Good news: more women are taking advantage of new flexibility in balancing home and work. Bad news: those workers can get comfy in their fuzzy pink slippers, because they’re sure not gonna see a corner office any time soon.
A just-released study of 400 professional women attending Simmons School of Management’s leadership conference last April found evidence of women’s changing attitude toward work. Besides the unexpectedly high number of women who take advantage of flexible work arrangements, the Simmons professors who authored the study–Mary Shapiro, Cynthia Ingols and Stacy Blake-Beard–seem surprised by women’s aims in pursuing flexibility: not to scale back or “opt out” of careers, as the media hype and previous research would have it, but instead to keep their thumbs emphatically in the pie so as not to lose their full-time status.
We’re not clinging to our jobs because of some Gloria Steinem blabbedyblah about a woman’s right to a career. So why the sticky thumbs? Simple: we need the money. A huge number of these women–86%–earn more than half their household income; a third bring home all the bacon themselves. Reality ain’t romantic.
And why the new embrace of flexible work arrangements? The researchers theorize that more women are beginning to see themselves as free agents who work for She Is Me, Inc. In the past, this attitude was discouraged by the white men who dominated the workplace and who could afford to marry themselves to one lifetime employer. Today, corporate bankruptcies and outsourcing imperil the very notion of a lifetime job. Even white men are free agenting now.
But it’s still women who seek flexibility out of need. As the authors write:
Whether they negotiate boundaries around the job, telecommute, stay in a job that permits balance, or make a lateral move instead of a promotion, women are trying to “make work work.”
That suggests these women know they may have to take a detour in their climb to the corner office. So maybe this news, from Futurestep (Korn/Ferry International’s outsourced recruitment subsidiary), won’t surprise them:
More than half (61%) of 1,320 global executives surveyed say they believe that telecommuters are less likely to advance in their careers in comparison to employees working in traditional office settings.
Despite this assertion, nearly half (48%) of respondents indicated that they would consider a job which involved telecommuting on a regular basis and the vast majority (a combined 78%) stated that telecommuters are either equally or more productive than those who work in offices. When asked which type of flexible working arrangement they found most attractive, nearly half (46%) of respondents most preferred the option of working flexible hours.
In other words, execs know telecommuters are just as if not more productive than office workers, and many would seek such an arrangement themselves–but they still insist such a work arrangement means career harakiri. (Random unsolicited Japanese lesson of the day: hara means belly, and kiri means to cut; the oft-used harikari is not, I repeat, not a word. And karaoke is pronounced kara-OH-keh, not carry-OH-kee. And although it may taste like it, uni is not whale snot.)
No wonder we’re stuck with status quo at the top. Here’s further proof from a study released today by recruiters and personnel managers Hudson:
More than three-quarters (76%) of U.S. workers report to a Caucasian boss and just one-third (34%) state their boss is a woman. At the same time, less than half (43%) of employees indicate that there is racial, ethnic and gender diversity on their company’s executive team.
Yep, there’s more:
Twenty-two percent of employees know someone who they think was denied a job, promotion or pay increase because of their gender.
As a woman currently working from home, I have to shout out a call to arms here. I don’t for a minute suggest we should all surge (if you will) back to our offices full-time. But we do have to collectively work harder at changing the attitudes of our bosses and coworkers. Keep those thumbs in the pie. Just let the bakers know you’re there.