For the last decade+ I have thought about work flexibility six ways to Sunday -- coaching hundreds of women as they prepare to approach their employers about a non-traditional work structure. You can never gather enough strategies and solutions -- and I was happy to discover an excellent take-away from the 85 Broads "Jam Session" designed to help women "Get the Flexibility You Want".
The discussion leader was Katie Donovan of Equal Pay Negotiations, who advises women to develop a strong case supporting their value to the company. Her nifty "NAARC" acronym is a well-crafted template for organizing the pitch to your employer:
Network: Emphasize your personal and professional network and how it adds value to your employer.
Alignment: Acknowledge the changes that are evolving at your company and how your experience and expertise will continue to be relevant and valuable.
Awards and Accolades: Remind your boss about all the professional praise you have received both within and outside your company.
Revenue Increase: Show how you're focused on making the company more successful -- and profitable.
Cost Decrease: Highlight the efficiencies and overall cost savings you initiate and how you contribute to the bottom line.
When you're making the pitch for flexibility, it's all about reminding your employer -- in a respectful, non-confrontational and collegial way -- that you're too good to lose. Employers know that most women eventually leave when they don't get the flexibility they want or need.
Katie pointed out, however, that you should approach a flexibility discussion as a routine negotiation (84 percent of managers expect employees to negotiate their employment packages -- and there is the greatest wiggle room with salary, vacation and flexibility), not as a veiled or overt threat of departure.
The key is having your NAARC pitch ready, and also being sensitive to how a more flexible schedule will affect your boss. Hit all the key issues -- work focus and productivity, daily schedule and routine meeting adjustments, client interaction, travel -- and more politically charged issues like whether granting you flexibility sets a precedent for your department or the company overall.
Katie points out that 80 percent of flexibility requests are granted because the employee has done good research -- especially within their own companies and at competitors. Armed with information about what works and what doesn't, you can head off many uninformed objections. And as you talk to many different people, you'll identify resources that you can pass on to your boss (like www.freeconferencecall.com, a resource that was news to me).
As with all good things in life, flexibility is not going to be handed to you on a silver platter. You have to raise your hand and ask for what you want -- and know that you're not asking for anything out of the normal business realm. According to Katie, 80 percent of employers now offer some form of flexibility, there has been a 13 percent increase in flexibility with the most recent recession, and many companies actually see it as a problem solver (less office space, heating, cooling, phones, etc.) and a possible cost savings (they are not required to offer benefits to employees who work less than 30 hours).
Perhaps the best golden nugget from Katie's discussion was her reminder not to negotiate flexibility with HR. Very few companies have a carved-in-stone flexible work policy -- and if it's not in the company handbook, it's too likely HR will say no. It's much easier to work out a mutually beneficial deal with your boss.
The key is to innovate, not hesitate. Too many women assume they will never get flexibility or give up after asking a one-line question (For example, "Is it possible for me to work one day at home?), rather than a providing a detailed proposal designed to "work both ways." As a result, women leave the workforce in droves -- often unnecessarily. As I say in my webinar, "Look Before You Leap", do everything you can to get the flexibility you want so that your ongoing income will provide the very long-term financial security you need.
This post was originally published on Kathryn Sollmann's blog, 9 Lives for Women, where she helps women navigate 9 stages of work and life from college through retirement years. Follow her practical advice on "Finding the Work that Fits Your Life".
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.