I was recently chatting to a smart, highly competent, funny woman. She also had just returned to work following maternity leave.
Prior to having her young son, she was in a managerial role. She made a flexible working request to work three days per week. It was accepted. But with a condition. It wouldn’t work, so they said, to be both part time and a manager. So she was returning in a more junior capacity. No people responsibility. No strategy or the like. No trial of new arrangements to find out. No open minds, either.
What a load of bollocks.
She is far from the first women to feel like she had to make this choice. She won’t be the last either, sadly.
Who has lost out? She has, first and foremost. She’s dropped her pay, and her morale with it. The company in question has lost out too and they probably don’t even realise it. They have missed out on having this intelligent, caring and funny woman as a leader in their organisation.
Excuse me for stating the obvious: working part time doesn’t mean that you are less committed, productive, engaged, or able. It does not make you any less of a contributor. Many of the part time workers I know in practice are actually the opposite; they are very organised at getting the work done in a different way. Often, I have barely noticed a difference in output when someone has reduced their hours. On the other hand, you can have someone pulling a traditional five day week, but barely pulling their weight.
There’s also nothing incompatible with working part time and leading a team. If you are good enough leader of people, then simply being out of the office for a couple of days a week, working non-standard hours, working from home or the like, should make no difference at all to what gets done and what gets achieved. If you need to be present to ensure stuff happens, I’d suggest there’s a wider question to be asked and answered.
There are two angles to this. One is those Neanderthal organisations and managers who need challenging and changing, and bringing up to date. As I said in an earlier blog post, nearly two thirds of employees rate flexibility as their most desired benefit. It is no longer a mum returner thing. The other angle is encouraging women to believe that if they want to make that personal choice to work part time, not just after a family but any time or for any reason, then they not only have the legal right to ask (big smegging deal) but that they can and should push back if they get back a poorly evidenced platitude in response. It is about belief. Belief that part time working is just as valuable. There’s no ‘only’ about it.
And as for that company that still believes you can’t work part time and hold a leadership role, then I will say simply this. You get the employee relations, and the talent, that you deserve. That woman I told you about? She’s going to leave and set up her own business.
It is time to start working like it’s 2015.