Work-Life Among Information Workers: Notes from BlogHer ’10
At the BlogHer Conference in New York City this weekend, I co-hosted a panel to discuss how bloggers can use their powerful voices to rally for more effective family-friendly workplace policies. You can read a summary of the panel here.
The whole conference was imbued with discussions about work-life. I spoke with several women from large corporations who enjoyed flexibility and great policies, but spoke of a fear of stigma if they took full advantage. I spoke with a lot of small business owners who supported care policies but found it difficult to manage both financially and logistically when their employees took leaves. Of course, when you get 2,400 ambitious women together you’re going to discuss our struggles to achieve work life fit! But I had several a-ha moments during the two day event.
1) The most urgent point that emerged during my BlogHer session was something I had not thought much about- but once it was raised, it instantly hit a nerve. An audience member raised the issue of what she referred to as the “ghettoized female teleworker.” The audience instantly jumped on this topic- again, not surprising in a room full of information workers. How do you manage to both work remotely and stay in the game? Does working from home diminish an employers’ sense of your ambition?
Another audience member asked, “What ARE the steps to convincing the world/companies/men believe that being at home isn’t “sitting at home eating bonbons?”
I shared some of my own tips: the first is to charge what you’re worth, and not diminish your salary even though you work remotely. The second is to be professional: hold calls and meetings on a quality phone line, be available, and pretend like you’re in the office when you talk to colleagues. Never make jokes about being in your pajamas! Finally, make time for face-time, even if it’s periodic.
“We need to shift the perception that telecommuters are lazy, undressed, and off the grid.” Another audience member suggested remote workers are even more available than office workers, since homeworkers are usually online. This, however, brings challenges too. Which leads me to point two.
2) In my session, we opened with the question: how many of you work flexibly? Almost every single hand went up. Indeed, at a breakfast with several senior women PepsiCo executives at the BlogHer Conference, The Chief Communications Officer of all of PepsiCo, Chief Marketing Officer of Gatorade, and VP of Global Design and Development all agreed they could take the time they needed for family. That’s not the issue: the issue is the unrelenting lack of boundaries that means any time they take away from the office needs to be “made up” at odd hours.
Gatorade CMO Sarah Robb O’Hagan referred to this as her personal “watchout”: everyone works flexible schedules, but they also work through the weekends. For professionals and professional services workers, the issue is not flexibility. It’s managing our own and others’ expectations of the sheer amount of time we spending working, if not necessarily at work.
3) From a public policy perspective, we had an interesting discussion (see CNN’s Eric Kuhn on the meeting here) with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Anita Jackson of MomsRising.org asked the Senator to share her thoughts on how to finally bring family friendly practices to every American business. Gillibrand started to reply with a rote answer on how businesses have to recognize that family friendly policies are good for business. I pushed the Senator: “you can’t just put the onus on companies and expect them to change everything.” She then shifted from platititudes to discussing her program to provide tax credits for employers to provide child care incentives.
Everyone knows that in an ideal world, on site childcare would be fabulous. But that will not happen anytime soon. Tax credits for large and small businesses who help provide free resource and referrals for childcare is different, and a more workable approach. For example, Senator Gillibrand supports a proposal to allow employers to deduct 20 percent of the costs for childcare resources and referral services. Currently employers can deduct only 10 percent of those costs. Senator Gillibrand also supports increasing the maximum deduction from $150,000 to $225,000.
For more on Gillibrand’s family friendly policies, click here. Tax credits alone won’t do much. But this specific policy focus reminded me that we must consider what Chrysula Winegar calls the “trinity” of elements that will bring about change: “It’s the holy trinity of individual knowledge and responsibility, corporate culture and policy and careful base-line legislation.”