The Workplace Model Is Broken for More Than Moms

03/12/2015 11:36 am ET | Updated May 12, 2015

Last week, a female CEO apologized to mothers for the way she once treated them at the office. Katharine Zaleski shares that just a few years ago, she dismissed the idea of a partnership with a female executive after spotting "endless photos of her small children" in her office. She regularly scheduled 4:30 p.m. meetings because: "It didn't dawn on me that parents might need to pick up their kids at daycare." And she "didn't disagree when another female editor said we should hurry up and fire another woman before she 'got pregnant.'"

Now her former behavior makes her cringe, and she's letting everyone know: "I'm sorry to all the mothers I worked with." Her apology stems, she explains, from a change in heart brought on by new life experience. She became a mother herself, and had an epiphany: It's possible to be a mom and a hard worker at the same time.

It's great news that Zaleski has come around to the idea that motherhood and work are not either-or choices. But, as her apology makes the rounds on the web, it's critical that the discussion include the fact that the existing workplace model isn't only broken for moms.

In acknowledging that her own former attitude towards moms was wrong, Zaleski encourages other young women to empathize with their future selves so as not to make the same errors in judgement. And yet she herself admits that whatever she knew about motherhood and work just wasn't enough to make her understand the value moms bring to the workplace. She says she had to experience motherhood to get it.

But it can't take becoming a mom, or even being likely to one day become a mom, to realize that traditional ideas about work needs to change. Many women may never become mothers, either by choice or by circumstance. And more than half the American workforce is made up of men who, thanks to biology, will most certainly never be mothers.

A few years ago, when I approached the president of the organization I worked for to recommend company-wide adoption of a flex policy, I was addressing a man in his mid-70s; as a result, I could hardly suggest he "Just wait and see what it's like when you become a mom."

In fact, I'm not a mom myself, and yet I've been advocating for flexibility in the workplace for years because it makes sense for a whole host of reasons, including increased productivity, better health, lower fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, cost savings, effective emergency management, higher employee morale, and reduced turnover.

And I'm relatively new to the conversation. For decades, academic institutions have been touting the advantages of flexibility to workplaces and the economy. More and more global employers are recognizing the value of flex for their employees' personal and professional well-being. Thought leaders on this issue include not only women such as Cali Williams Yost, one of Columbia Business School's Alumni Changing the World, and Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and Founder of FlexJobs and 1 Million for Work Flexibility as well as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, but also strong male voices like those of Wharton professor Stew Friedman, national expert in work and family issues Scott Behson, and Carroll School of Management professor Brad Harrington.

It's always exciting to see flex in the national spotlight, but it's also crucial to make sure that the message doesn't muddy the waters. Work flexibility is critical for moms, but not because they need special treatment or extra sensitivity. Instead, work flexibility is a business strategy that improves performance for all workers -- and employers' bottom lines.