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Only Women With Babies? Workplace Flexibility for All

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Who knew that a brief discussion on workplace flexibility during the second presidential debate would become the takeaway of the evening? After touting his ability to collect "binders full of women" candidates for his gubernatorial cabinet, former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney flatly labeled workplace flexibility as a working mother's issue, implying that the only reason flexible work options should be used is to attract women with children to the workforce.

Romney stated, "I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible." He went on to add, "What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women the opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to afford."

It's surprising that Romney, as a successful businessman, doesn't realize that workplace flexibility for all professionals is beneficial to have a thriving business, economy and workforce. The assertion that workplace flexibility is only an issue for women -- specifically mothers -- is wrong, plain and simple.

Here are some other people who rely on work flexibility as highly important to their lives:

Military spouses, both men and women, need flexible jobs to stay employed while moving around the world in support of their spouse's service to our country. Military spouse Monica Clark says, "I am an 'army wife,' which means that we travel a lot and the future of where we will be stationed for a long period of time is unsure. This makes it extremely difficult to get going into a career, and to build a reputation within a company." Jobs that allow working from home (wherever that may be at the time!) are a fantastic solution to this problem.

Young professionals, members of Generation Y, want workplace flexibility because they care more than any generation previously about having work-life balance. The Center for Work-Life Policy reported last year, "89 percent of Ys saying flexible work options are important consideration in choosing an employer." And with Gen Y poised to be the largest generation in the workforce, our economic future may hinge on employers offering more flexible work practices.

People with disabilities need flexible jobs to accommodate their specific needs. As one job seeker put it to me last year, "The disabled and those of us with shades of disability would magnificently benefit from the ability to work from home. Some of us cannot always physically get to a job or would be physically restricted in a way by being in an office, but are plenty able to do work from home."

Working fathers and men in general want flexible options at work. Unlike generations before them, today's dads don't accept the notion of being a full-time professional but a part-time father. And as Generation Y makes its way deeper into the workforce, Gen Y men are just as likely as Gen Y women to seek out work-life balance through flexible jobs.

Father-of-two Jeremy Anderson describes his feelings about working from home: "It's hard to boil it down to one thing for me, but I would sum it up in one word: freedom. Freedom from a commute and from office politics. The freedom to get work done without the typical office distractions. The freedom to start work early or work later into the night. The freedom to be there for my kids after school activities and to volunteer in their classroom."

Cancer patients and anyone undergoing treatments for life-changing health issues need flexible jobs. A serious diagnosis brings uncertainty regarding employment, health insurance, and the ability to heal. Thankfully, Christina Reck, who battled skin cancer and cervical cancer between 2005 and this year, had a very flexible employer. "I have worked through my treatments, just taking a few days off here and there depending on how I was feeling. The companies I worked for were very caring and generous during my treatments, and I was permitted to work a very flexible schedule around my treatments," says Reck.

Extreme commuters want work flexibility so that they can reduce their 90 minutes or more of daily commute time. If telecommuting were even a once a week option for the 3.2 million extreme commuters, that would be a 20 percent reduction in how much they spend in gas consumption (or related costs) and a 20 percent increase in time given back to their personal lives.

Yes, working mothers absolutely benefit from flexible work options, and my life is proof of that, raising two young sons while working from home with a flexible schedule. But having worked with hundreds of thousands of job seekers looking for more flexible jobs, I've seen first-hand the variety of people in need of workplace flexibility.

What our leaders should be prescribing, for both a strong economy and a strong workforce, is workplace flexibility for all.