Romy Newman on why flexible hours and remote working are more important than ever before
I co-founded a company designed to help working women find success in corporate America, an industry that I dropped out from.
I was a star performer in my job. I was promoted five times in seven years, I managed a team of 50 people, I was responsible for over $100 million in revenue and, in return, my company invested in me through training, development programs, and mentorship opportunities.
My former employer, The Wall Street Journal, graciously accommodated me after I had my second child, by allowing me to go down to a three-day per week schedule. I was able to keep my (very) senior title and all my scope of responsibilities, and was supported by strong deputies who were able to keep things moving even when I was not in the office two days a week. I really wanted this arrangement to work because it would have been an opportunity to show the whole world that mothers of young children can continue to be an important asset in the workplace without having to sacrifice time and commitment to their families.
But after some time trying to make it work, I’m sad to say that I fulfilled the company’s worst fears about what happens to top-performing women in leadership roles: I quit my job to stay home with my kids. I felt like I wasn’t giving my all at home OR at work — and I wasn’t living up to my own high standards. AND, I felt harshly judged by those around me. (I even heard whispering in the halls, “Romy is never here anymore…”)
There were a lot of reasons why I left my job, starting with the fact that I had to take two major pay-cuts. I had to not only pay a nanny, which essentially cut my salary in half, but I went down to working fewer days. Reducing the salary of an employee who only works three out of five days of the week sounds reasonable, but I still had all of my responsibilities to manage — and now less time to do it in and less pay.
Due to this pay cut, my husband’s income became much more important to our family. If our nanny called in sick, I was the one who had to stay home because we were relying on his salary more than ever before. Meanwhile, managing childcare and household responsibilities usually took another two to four hours per week, even with the help from our nanny, and it was difficult to balance everything while still working at my job.
On top of that, it takes me 45 minutes to do my hair… which might sound crazy and even unrelated. But in the first performance review I ever had, I was told I couldn’t be promoted because my hair didn’t look professional enough. So taking the time to do my hair every day was less of a luxury and more of a necessity to keep my senior role.
On the days when I was in the office, management meetings were always called at 8:30 a.m. or 5:30 p.m. which meant I had to miss the precious little time I had left with my kids. But at the same time, I wasn’t feeling stimulated by my work. I’m the type of worker that gets bored if my responsibilities don’t change frequently — and I was basically frozen in the same job because I was working “part-time.” Without being excited about or even proud of my work, it made it harder to leave my kids every morning or stay late for a meeting. I felt like I was losing motivation and being pulled in so many directions that I couldn’t even deliver on my own standards and expectations. On top of all of that, business was bad so it felt hard to win.
Finally, I felt really lonely. Most of my peers were men whose wives stayed at home with their kids. I couldn’t connect with them and I felt really isolated.
So I left. But after just two months staying home with my kids, I was bored and depressed. So much so that I decided to dive back into the workforce and co-found a company — and it’s the best professional experience I’ve ever had.
Looking back, the part of the arrangement that troubled me the most was the inequity of it: There were plenty of people in my reporting structure who also had small children at home and would have liked to be working on a flex schedule, yet they had not received the same permission as I had. I felt terribly hypocritical expecting them to come to work and spend time away from their families to help facilitate my flex arrangement.
There was an equation that could have kept me thriving in my old corporate job, and there are ways companies can adjust their practices to keep female employees in the workplace. Establishing clear objectives and then allowing employees to work remotely or flexible hours is a strong start because the commute alone is a dealbreaker for a lot of working mothers. Due to the ongoing coronavirus, we’re beginning to see that it’s not that companies are unable to allow employees to work remotely or flex schedules, but it has been an unwillingness that has prevented so many from doing so. Our world has been flipped upside down and it has forced employers to adopt practices that they might not have otherwise.
Next, engaging in candid conversations with women about what they want out of their jobs and what isn’t working for them will help set expectations for both the employers and employees. Providing women with mentorship and support as well as childcare offerings is crucial in maintaining female talent.
Employers should also get male parents involved in the conversation and the responsibilities to show that the company values families and always let high performing women know that the company will be patient with them even as they figure out how to juggle everything on their plate.
Finally, employers should stop equating compensation to hours worked. Instead, compensate for performance and results because the work an employee is producing should matter more than the number of hours they’re physically present in the office. Working moms can and should be able to have both a career and a family and it’s important for employers to put practices in place that will allow women to support both. Right now we’re all dealing with so many more responsibilities because of schools and daycares being shut down, and on top of that there is a lot of added stress and anxiety around our current situation. It’s not simply “business as usual” and employers need to recognize that by giving employees the flexibility and space that they need to manage their work and home lives, will in the end produce better results for everyone.
In the future, I know that there must be a way to make flex arrangements work — particularly given the fact that we are all giving more to our jobs than ever before, and that technology has brought the full scope of our jobs into our homes. I wish I had used the podium I was given to challenge the status quo and make change for more people — instead of feeling overwhelmed and throwing in the towel.
But now I have the chance to do just that every single day with Fairygodboss, and I couldn’t be happier.
Romy Newman is the president and co-founder of Fairygodboss
This originally appeared on Medium.com