Working Mothers and the Fight for a Flexible Schedule
12:30 pm, July 10th | by Samantha Cohen
According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, only a quarter of mothers with children under the age of 18 would choose full-time work if money were not an issue. Another survey from the Families and Work Institute reports that only 37 percent of working women and 44 percent of working men actually want a job with more responsibilities. By comparison, nearly half of working mothers in the United States are full-time, indicating that there are many women working more hours than they wish to be.
Over the weekend The New York Times shared the story of Sara Uttech, a working mother who has spent years trying to accommodate her career to her life. Along with hundreds of other working mothers, Sara Uttech isn’t as concerned with “leaning in” as she is with finding a career that offers paid sick leave, flexible scheduling, or the opportunity to work remotely.
Like most middle-class working mothers, she doesn’t have access to nannies, in-office nurseries, or personal assistants, and had to be resourceful in order to balance her home life with her job’s requirements. She persuaded her children’s school to offer an affordable after-school program and leaned on her husband, mother, and brother for support but, as she told the Times, her greatest success in the battle for work-life balance was negotiating to work from home on Fridays.
With the support of her book club and husband, she mustered up the courage to approach her boss about telecommuting. It started on a trial basis, just during the summer, when the office held shorter hours on Friday anyways. After a few summers, she approached her boss about it becoming a more permanent situation. Her boss agreed, with little hesitation.
Uttech said that her greatest “pearl of wisdom” for working mothers and fathers is to not be afraid to ask for such accommodations; the worst that can happen is that your boss says no. She emphasized that she does not have all of the answers, she’s just doing what works for her. As Uttech’s children grow older, she has been seeking higher leadership positions, offering to do more for her employer, and putting in more hours. She is now shifting her attention to the workplace since she’s no longer as needed at home.
Of course Uttech is not representative of every working mother in the entire workforce. She was fortunate that her supervisors were receptive to a flexible schedule request — not all employers are as accommodating. According to the 2012 National Study of Employers conducted by the Families and Work Institute, only about a third of employers allow a portion of their workers to telecommute on a regular basis; less than 2 percent extend this option to all of their employees.
Anne Ladky, the executive director of Women Employed, says that part of the problem is that most women and men don’t believe they have enough leverage to ask for any accommodations. Historically women are denied bargaining power and what can you do when your employer isn’t flexible or sympathetic and they see you as replaceable? Uttech hopes that one day employers see motherhood as an asset rather than a burden.
“Because I’m a mom I know how to multitask, and I have all these other skills I didn’t have before like juggling, mentoring, educating, problem-solving, managing,” she said. “And I’m so much more productive now during the hours when I am working. Motherhood should be a feather in my cap, not a drawback.”