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The best way to ask for a flexible work arrangement


For many working parents, work flexibility is the key to whether they can work at all. But getting a schedule that’s adapted to your individual needs is hard. Author Kathryn Sollmann says there's a way to pitch workplace flexibility to your boss -- and get it.

With 25 million working moms in the U.S., finding the appropriate work-life balance is a widespread issue. The key is finding the type of flexibility that’s best for you.

“There are actually six different forms of flexibility,” Sollmann says. “The first is one that women don't think is possible, which is a full-time job with a flexible schedule. She lays out the particulars of workplace flexibility in her new book, “Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman and What to Do Instead.”

The other forms of flexibility include part-time jobs, job-shares -- “which are more difficult to arrange,” she notes -- freelance, consulting and telecommuting. That last one has become incredibly popular.

“The trend between 2005 and 2015 for working from home or telecommuting has grown 115% just in that 10-year period,” says Sollmann, citing a study by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics.

You don’t have to lean in

Sollmann dismisses the notion of “leaning in” popularized by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, instead noting that the focus should be on staying in – as in staying in the workforce.

“You absolutely have to stay in, because when a woman leaves the workforce, she forfeits up to four times her salary each year she's out,” Sollmann says. “You're giving up your salary, you're giving up your benefits -- and they have a value -- and you're also giving up the potential of saving and investing that money.”

Part of that lost potential comes from the fact that women who leave the workforce end up staying out of it longer than anticipated – if they return at all. Even if they only plan to stay out for a couple of years, women leave the workforce for an average of 12 years before returning, according to data published by Mercer.

“You always think I'm going to go back but it will be after this event or after that event, and the years just add up,” she says.

Staying in, Sollmann says, goes beyond a mom’s own career aspiration. “We have to start thinking about working and earning money as part of our caregiving for our families,” she says. “It's not a selfish pursuit of power.”

Perfecting your pitch

To achieve workplace flexibility, Sollmann says women should focus on how they’re asking for it.

“First, you have to check and see if there is a flexibility policy at your company, and then talk to other people in your company and try to find out who is working in a more flexible way and what are the do's and don'ts,” she says. Talk to friends and colleagues at other companies as well. According to FlexJobs, flexible workplace opportunities exist at 80 percent of companies.

Presentation, of course, is key. “You have to be very specific about what you want. Talk about where the work is going to happen. Is it going to be a couple of days a week in the office, a couple at home? Are you going to be working in a shared workspace? What do you need for [your home office] to set it up productively?” she says.

“If you make a professional pitch for flexibility, then you are going to get it most of the time,” Sollmann says, citing Katie Donovan of Equal Pay Negotiations in her book.

If you or someone you know has a question about debt or personal finances, please share with us at moneyquestions@yahoo.com.

This story was originally published Dec. 11, 2018 as “How to pitch workplace flexibility and get it.”

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter.

More from our Women + Money series:

How women can get ahead with hurting men’s feelings

Barbara Corcoran: Women should ‘pretend they’re a man’ during salary negotiations

How women can earn $1 million more in their career

W+M: Why your next fund manager should be a woman