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Is Your Workplace Flexible?

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that Preston is starting “school” soon (thanks for all the wonderfully supportive comments!). Well, that day has officially come -- he starts tomorrow! -- and during the worst snowstorm Chicago has seen in years. We’re supposed to get something like 15 inches between Tuesday and Wednesday. Yes, New York, it’s our turn now…

I just got a message from the daycare or, excuse me, “school” that said this:

Dear Sarah,

Please advise there may be a bad snow storm coming late evening on Tuesday/Wednesday morning. Our policy is: if Chicago Public Schools are closed, we will also be closed. To confirm any closing action we will utilize Constant Contact Email, our One Call voice mail system and Emergency Closing on local TV and radio stations. Prior to any closing notice, please plan your commuting time accordingly.

The good news is, we live two blocks away from his school, so our commute time is about five minutes max. The bad news is, I won’t have childcare on days they’re closed. Something I hadn’t thought of until now…

I doubt these emergencies will arise often, but when they do I’m awfully thankful I have a very understanding boss who is extremely flexible with my schedule and understands that I’m a working mom with a toddler at home, who’s going through a transition with my childcare situation.

That wasn’t always the case for me. It wasn’t until the last couple years that I felt I had ANY flexibility at work, or anything resembling a healthy work-life balance. When I got pregnant, one of my managers at the time was very understanding of my situation and told me that if I needed to work from home as I got closer to my due date, I could do whatever I needed to be comfortable. I never did take him up on the offer, but just the fact that I knew the option was there made me feel a lot better about working the 50-60 (sometimes 70) hours I was putting in at the time. I was, and still am, so grateful for his compassion and understanding.

Working at a mostly male company, with few new moms around, I’ve tried hard to break the stereotype that exists universally about working moms. I work just as much as my male colleagues, and I would never want the perception to be that I am putting in anything less than I was before I had kids. Family comes first, obviously, but I can have both, dammit: Yes, I want it all, a family and a career. And why shouldn’t I get to have that?

But I’m not going to lie: After about nine years here, it’s at a point now that I’ve proven that I am trustworthy, so if I have to leave by a certain time to pick my son up at daycare by 5 p.m. two days a week, you bet I’ll be making up for any missed hours at work over the weekend or at night, whether that's expected of me or not. I’ll probably end up working more, in fact, just to prove that I’m not taking advantage of the flexibility they’ve given me.

The more flexible my workplace is, the more flexible I am -- and in turn, the more work they’ll actually get out of me. It goes both ways, and I wish more companies -- and managers -- realized that.

Is your workplace flexible with your schedule as a parent? Do you think there’s a stereotype that goes with being a working mom in the corporate world? I'm also curious to know what your company does to make being a "working mom" even possible (i.e. flex time, nursing rooms, daycare facilities on premises, etc.)?