During my early years in public accounting I often heard that “flexible work arrangements” didn’t work. Critics of these reduced schedules argued that they only led to an employee taking a pay cut, but still being expected to handle the same workload as before their schedule was reduced. While this was discouraging to hear, I still knew that when it came time for me to have my first child I would want to at least try working on a flexible work arrangement before throwing in the towel. Now, exactly 5 years after having my first child and returning to work on a schedule that averages 30 hours per week, I am very happy that I decided to try this schedule out as I have found that it is working quite well for me and my family. I’ve proven that advancing in my career and spending the time I wanted with my family weren’t mutually exclusive. My hope is that by sharing some of the things I’ve learned over the years with you today I can help other working moms to succeed. Here are some of the things that have helped me.
- Find a firm that will support you - when I look at the public accounting industry, as well as other professional services industries, I’m often surprised by how few women there are who are “like me”. You don’t need to necessarily go to a company that is leading the way in women’s advancement, but you do need to go to a company that will support you as you work to blaze the trail there for yourself and others behind you.
- Speak up and speak often - let it be known that you want to continue to advance in your career. Don’t just tell one person, but rather share the message with all of those above you who can help you to advance. I’ve found that frequent mentor meetings and review discussions are great opportunities to voice my thoughts and goals. Just because no one else has done it before, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask. In my experience, if you are a strong performing employee then your employer will want to keep you happy and will be willing to work with you to find what works.
- Happy Hours are important too. With my reduced schedule, particularly not working in the office on Fridays, I would almost always miss out on the fun office events. In my younger, more naïve mind I never felt that re-arranging my schedule to stay late for an office Happy Hour would be a good use of my time. However, over time I’ve realized that these events are more than just fun – they are important. These are the critical opportunities you have to build a more personal connection with your colleagues and hopefully come to better understand how you can collaborate effectively.
- Understand that flexibility goes both ways. There have been many times when I’ve needed to add on a daycare day so that I can be in the office to meet with a client or complete an engagement before a deadline. There have been many times when I’ve had to call a client from home to discuss a pressing issue that came up on one of my days “off”. However, there have also been many times when I’ve had to stay home to care for a sick child or adjust my schedule for a significant event at my child’s school.
- Be organized at work and at home. The mental workload associated with being a mom is no joke! Combine this with a lack of sleep and the typical stresses associated with raising small children and it can be a recipe for disaster. I’ve found that I need to write everything down and constantly set reminders and calendar events on my phone. Another successful working mom once told me one of her best tips is to volunteer to coordinate meetings so that she could choose the dates and times that did not conflict with her kids’ events.
- Your personal decisions can sometimes be made like business decisions. For years I fought my husband’s recommendation to hire a cleaning company to clean our house. This seemed like too much of a luxury to me and I thought I would feel guilty about not doing it myself. However, had I thought of this the way that I would make a business decision, I quickly would have realized that my “hourly” wage exceeded the cost per hour of paying a cleaning company. I needed to take the emotion out of the decision – like I often have to do at work. Other convenient options that may simplify your life include online grocery ordering and dry cleaning delivery services.
- Anticipate obstacles with your situation. As a tax accountant I know that times right around government deadlines will always be crazy and there is no way I’d get everything done and stick to my reduced schedule. I wrote my schedule as an average of 30 hours a week – knowing that I would work more during Tax Season and less during the summer to balance things out. Along these lines I knew I would need a daycare that could offer me the flexibility to add on days during busier times. Another potential obstacle with my situation is when my husband and I both have client meetings scheduled and one of the kids gets sick. We try to prevent this by keeping one another in the loop ahead of time as far as when we have important meetings or travel, but for those times when it is unavoidable I’ll often have to ask a friend to be on stand-by should one of our kids get sick when my husband and I are both traveling.
- Get rid of the 8-5 with a 1-hour lunch mind-set. Obviously, this won’t work for certain careers, but if your job has some flexibility then I strongly encourage you to adjust your hours to enable you to work most efficiently. For me, this often means coming in a little later so that I can see my kids in the morning and also avoid driving during rush hour. I work through lunch and also try to time my evening commute to avoid sitting in rush hour traffic. In the winter when it snows I’ll sometimes work from home for a couple of hours to let the roads clear before coming in to the office. Again, flexibility goes both ways though, so there are times when I need to come in earlier for meetings or stay later for events.
- Saving the best for last, I cannot stress enough the importance of having a supportive spouse. There is no way I could do what I do without my husband. We are a team in raising our children and playing this game of life together and the only way we will succeed is if we work together and support one another.
Renee is a Senior Manager in the Tax Practice at Schneider Downs. She and her husband Derek are raising their 3 children in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio.
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