12/23/2014 05:33 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2015

Flexibility Offers Working Mothers New Opportunities


Just after Thanksgiving, The New York Times' blog The Upshot posted an article entitled: Even Among Harvard Grads, Women Fall Short of Their Work Expectations. This article is the latest reminder of how the traditional full time work model makes it difficult for women to "have it all." From Anne-Marie Slaughter's 2012 Atlantic article to PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi's comments at the Aspen Ideas Festival this summer, women in the workforce are realizing that something has to change. The dissonance of expectations between couples as described in the Upshot's article and pressures from home, combined with inflexible work hours are forcing women to choose between a high-powered career and staying at home full time. This all or nothing mentality is pushing women out of the workforce and causing a brain drain that is a great disservice to our families and our economy. Women can have it all: they can have fulfilling careers and have quality time with their families but in order to do that the traditional work model has to change. Flexibility is the key.

The Upshot article looked at a recently published study conducted by the Harvard Business School using HBS alumni. The study sent out a survey to alumni, asking questions about their career and life goals, expectations for the future, and their work/life status. With almost 7,000 responses, the researchers were able to extend their findings to reflect the general population. This is what they found: in terms of life goals, men and women want the same thing -- meaningful and satisfying jobs that allow for advancement along with a full and gratifying personal life.

Where men and women significantly differ, is with their expectations. The study found that the majority of men expect their careers to take precedence over their female spouses', assuming their spouse will manage the majority of the household and familial obligations. Women, on the other hand, expect their careers to be equally as important as their male spouses' careers, assuming equal share of domestic duties. The reality is that not only are men's expectations being met, they are being exceeded, while women's expectations fall by the wayside causing resentment and unhappiness. As these couples have children they realize that those children require constant parental involvement and that care falls mostly on the mother. The traditional full-time, in-office work model makes it difficult for mothers to "have it all."

What these results show is that the rate of female growth, education, and employment are far exceeding the rate of evolution in the traditional, male-dominated workforce. As women advance, the structures they want to fit themselves into are not advancing with them. So what options are left for mothers who want to "have it all" -- who want to do serious work and be involved in their children's daily lives? In my own experience as an attorney, CEO and mother of three small children, what today's businesses are lacking for women is flexibility.

Finding an effective way to bridge the gap between employers looking for experienced and affordable part time talent, and mothers looking for flexible yet rewarding job opportunities, is an important step in the successful evolution of working mothers. For example, the former head of marketing at a fortune 500 company can do a great marketing project (from home) for a small business or start up at a fraction of the price of hiring a traditional marketing firm.

Whether you desire a long-term commitment or just a few hours a week, this allows for both the mom and the company to find the perfect match. Flexibility becomes part of the compensation package giving companies access to top talent that they might not otherwise be able to afford. A win-win for everyone and the opportunity to support the growth of the American workforce from all angles.