We need to take action to give Moms support

Yesterday, we honored moms…today, we need to take action to give moms the supports that help them, their children (our future!) and all of us thrive even if we don’t have young children ourselves:

–Consistent, affordable, quality child care
–Paid family leave
–Equal pay, AND
–Flexibility for moms, dads, and grandparents to fit work and life together as a help each other do their jobs and raise the children they love.

What do I mean by “all of us thrive even if we don’t have young children ourselves”?

First, it’s the right thing to do but it’s also the smart thing to do.

–A mom with consistent child care, paid leave and flexibility for herself and others caring for her children is someone who can participate in the workforce which helps the broader economy that is in desperate need of workers.

–She is a colleague who isn’t forced to quit leaving everyone else to do the job she was good at but can no longer do because she doesn’t have the support she needs.


Learn to Be More Flexible When $h*t Happens

Recently, I was on the Flip the Tortilla podcast with the impressive Denice Torres, and I loved our fun and insightful conversation so much that I wanted to share some highlights with you!Denice is a former Fortune 500 executive turned entrepreneur and board member.  During her time at Johnson & Johnson, she rose through the ranks to serve as President and Chief Strategy Officer, and is known for leading one of the most successful turnarounds in the company’s history.  Her podcast is thoughtfully described as, “for the underdog at heart and is about rising up, breaking through, and finding a way to achieve your most audacious goals.” The last few years have truly tested us all, and we talked about ways to better adapt to the unpredictable changes and challenges that surround us, not just in work but in our everyday lives. At the beginning of the pandemic we were all under extraordinary stress working from home, perhaps caring for and helping school children all while trying to keep up with the demands of our job. We had no choice. We had to adapt.  But, what does it mean to be adaptable?  It’s more than just a process or skills and tools, it’s a mindset.  There is a science behind the whole concept of flexibility. At the start of the pandemic, we had to be flexible. Now, as we move forward to what’s next, there is a choice.  A choice to be intentional and strategic with the way we operate our business, perform our work and manage our day-to-day lives…or not.   The companies that had already reimagined how, when and where they worked before the pandemic had the technology and communication guardrails in place that made the transition to 100% remote, as a Senior Leader we worked with said in a one-word email: “SEAMLESS”. I know what the exciting possibilities on the other side of this crisis-driven disruption can look like. I’ve seen the innovation. The engagement. The productivity. The collaboration, and the general sense of happiness and well-being.  That “spark” is what keeps me so passionate and fuels my SPARK for this work after more than two decades.  It’s what I want for every organization and every individual going forward.  I encourage you to listen and learn how to be more adaptable and intentional about work, life and leadership when as Torres say, “$h*t Happens.”Also this past week, I had the opportunity to keynote IN PERSON at the Foundation Financial Officers Group (FFOG) conference in Philadelphia!Like so many leaders, financial executives are having to navigate the “next” of work in ways simply unimaginable two years ago. It was rewarding to draw upon two-decades of experience guiding flexible work transformation to simplify the complexity and help leaders feel more confident to take action knowing,”okay, there’s a path.”Is your organization grappling with how to navigate uncharted waters?  Let’s connect on how I can help you and your team today.  Simply reach out to my colleague, Alison Batten at alison@flexstrategygroup.com today (pictured with me at the FFOG conference!) to help us customize a program for you.


Parents+Omicron+Flexibility: Now More Than Ever!

Yesterday, the U.S. posted 1 million new cases of COVID. That’s twice the number from just four days ago, and it’s the most any country has ever reported, according to Bloomberg. The next few weeks will likely become even more challenging, especially for parents–moms and dads–and the managers who employ them.

I share my thoughts on how managers and parents can start a problem-solving dialogue NOW.

Work together to find flexible, creative ways parents can work and manage the uncertain, ever-changing realities of caring for their pre-school and school-age children in the face of Omicron. And why everyone benefits.

This is my first experiment with quick, real-time video when I have something particularly important to share! Let me know what you think.


How to Work and Take Care of 32 Million Children

Parents across the U.S. and their employers woke up this morning with a new and daunting reality — how to work, care for and educate the estimated 32 million children who may be home from school for the foreseeable future. Here are a few tips to help leaders and parents partner to flexibly fit work, life, school, and family together:

Shift Your Productivity Mindset:  The goal is not to maintain pre-coronavirus levels of productivity. It’s about keeping everyone safe and healthy while maintaining as much productivity as possible as we all adapt to this new, ever-changing normal. The key is to be as creative and supportive as possible. If there was ever a moment to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, now is that time. Keep repeating: SOME productivity is better than NO productivity.

Talk Honestly and Be Patient:  Typically, bosses and employees don’t want or need to get into the nitty-gritty of how someone is going to work and take care of their kids. But these are not typical times. Keep the lines of communication open especially as parents settle into some sort of new routine with caregiving and home instruction. Managers, a little bit of extra support and understanding may be the difference between a worker who finds a way to keep contributing and one who throws up their hands and says, “I can’t do this.”

Expect and Embrace Imperfect Remote Workspaces: Effective remote working usually requires a separate workspace with limited disruptions from children, pets, and partners. That is an unrealistic and unnecessary expectation during this period when employees and kids were sent home to remote work and learn with little time to plan. The goal now is for people to feel they can be as responsive and accessible as possible, even if the environment is not absolutely perfect. If everyone—bosses, coworkers, and customers–can forgive a screaming child, barking dog, or the hum of a video game in the background, it will allow everyone to sustain a higher level of communication that would otherwise stop.

Spread Parents Across “A and B” Teams and Be Creative with Schedules:  For jobs that have certain tasks that cannot be done remotely, companies have started to use an “A and B Team” system to limit the number of people together in the same physical space. For those that have or are planning to do so, consider the following:

  • Assign employees who are parents evenly on both teams
  • Allow parents to stagger their start and stop times to coordinate care with partners and other support resources. Allow them to arrive and leave earlier or arrive and leave later as needed.

Hire College Students Available to Help: With two daughters sent home from college for online classes, I know there are millions of higher ed students that will have plenty of time in between classes for activities requiring limited social interaction. Now, there are public safety caveats given current CDC guidelines regarding social distancing. That’s why I say “will have” time. Many college students will not go back to school until fall. Use your judgment and listen to the public health authorities; however, after the period of strict social distancing and personal quarantine periods have passed, we will have millions of smart, motivated young people who could not only help care for kids while parents work but could also lead home instruction.

We have entered an unprecedented work and life reality. By shifting mindsets, changing expectations and re-imagining how, when and where work is done, we can mitigate the coronavirus, care for and educate our kids and stay open for business.

If you are a leader, how are you partnering with your working parent employees? If you are a working parent, what has been your experience so far? What’s worked and what hasn’t? What would help you?


What Happened When Silicon Valley Tackled Family Caregiving

“The vast majority of health care is actually provided by families, not by health care professionals.”Catalyzing Technology to Support Family Caregiving

Last year, I presented at a conference where the luncheon keynote speaker was the CEO of a non-profit hospital chain.

As we ate, the CEO excitedly shared how her organization was radically rethinking the delivery of medical care at all levels, including post-treatment convalescence.

She explained how more and more of their patients are convalescing at home, which means the patient is discharged as soon as possible after a surgical procedure. They recuperate at home under the care of family and friends with the support of periodic nursing visits, and remote monitoring.

She continued “we have found patients prefer this arrangement, and it has allowed us to dramatically reduce costs while continuing to provide high quality care. We, and other hospitals systems, see this as the model for the future.”

At that moment, all I could think was, “Hold the phone. Who exactly are these family members and friends who are now expected to oversee the recuperation and convalescence of their loved ones at home from often major surgical procedures? Does this CEO understand that most of these people work?”

So I raised my hand and asked the question.  Not surprisingly, the CEO didn’t have an answer because that’s not her primary concern. The challenge this CEO is solving for is how to deliver the highest quality care to the most people in the most efficient and cost-effective way. On that dimension, she and other healthcare leaders are succeeding.

How can technology help us to deliver care on top of everything else we have to do, on and off the job?

This means that more and more of the burden to deliver all but the most acute level of care will fall to loved ones–family members and friends, most of whom will have to provide that often medically complicated care while continuing to hold down and perform at their paid job (70% of caregivers to be exact–Pew).

How is that sustainable?

With this question in mind, I jumped at an invitation from the National Alliance for Caregiving to participate in a unique day-long roundtable with twenty-two other experts from government, Silicon Valley, caregiving advocacy organizations, and researcher institutions this past April.

This diverse, committed group spent hours at the Institute for the Future offices in Palo Alto tackling these questions:

“Until now, technology has made only modest contributions to supporting caregivers.  Can technology play a more meaningful role in helping caregivers? And how can we accelerate innovation in developing new applications to support caregivers?”

The thought-provoking result of our collective effort can be found in the just-released report,  “Catalyzing Technology to Support Family Caregiving” (and press release) and is synopsized in this model:

Specific recommendations include:

  • Create better “concept maps” and find more appropriate language to describe the varied and complex caregiving landscape. The way we currently talk about and think about caregiving is too simplistic. For innovation to occur, we need more accurate, complex models and maps of what caregiving actually entails.
  • Continue to collect extensive data about the prevalence, burden and impact of caregiving. Again, for technology to support the caregiver, we need more and better data showing the diversity of caregivers and growing complexity of caregiving responsibilities.
  • Spur a broad national conversation on caregiving.  Quite simply–we need to talk about the growing challenge of the working family caregiver much more than we do. As we learned from our Silicon Valley colleagues, entrepreneurs won’t invest if there isn’t widespread attention on the topic because they don’t see the market, even though the market is huge.
  • Develop a compelling business case for employers and healthcare providers to support caregiving.  In other words, help the leaders like the hospital CEO, and those that employ the increasingly overburdened family caregiver to understand the business case for offering smarter and better supports.
  • Inspire social conversations about caregiving to encourage more learning and support within families and communities. Basically, we aren’t talking to and supporting each other when we find ourselves knee deep in family caregiving responsibilities. How can we leverage and scale existing in person and virtual caregiver support models like CareGiving.com?

And last, but not least, the recommendation I am particularly passionate about because of the work I do with employees and employers…

  • Provide caregiving coaching as an integral component of all solutions. My main contribution to the dialogue was to point out that any technology solution developed to help the family caregiver has to be simple and usable. Also working caregivers need help learning how to fit that technology into all of the other, often chaotic, responsibilities they are frantically trying to manage, on and off the job.

How to make an “Intelligent Family Care Assistant” part of your work+life fit?

For example, one of the technology solutions the group proposed was called an “Intelligent Family Care Assistant,” a system to keep track of and coordinate the family’s care tasks.

The challenge, of course, remains what type of coaching does a family caregiver need to learn how to integrate that technology into their already busy work+life fit? And who would provide that coaching (e.g. hospitals, employers, doctors), and how (e.g. live, in-person, virtually)?

An exercise that the roundtable group completed gave me hope that we are close to knowing what that coaching model looks like and how to deliver it.

In this joint exercise, the group spent about 20 minutes identifying all of the activities and priorities a family caregiver has to deal with only once, then yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, nightly, etc.  We wrote each priority and activity on a post-it note.

On pages 16-18 of the report, you will see pictures of post-it notes we then put into columns labeled labeled Medical, Wellness, Movement, Home, Social, Finance, Legal, Emotional and Personal Care, by level of frequency.

Essentially what the group did together in 20 minutes was complete a more complex version of the Tweak It Practice, with each post-it representing not only a “tweak” but also the inputs a caregiver would put into a care app like Unfrazzle. In other words, “contextualizing” coaching and support models like Tweak It and Unfrazzle exist, now it’s a matter of continuing to innovate and scale.

What do you think it will take encourage the innovation required to support the growing ranks of family caregivers (one of which will likely be us someday)?

Also, I invite you to connect with me and share your thoughts on Twitter @caliyost and Facebook.


Simple, Universal Advice to Help Parents to Find Success, On and Off the Job

One of the most interesting aspects of my trip to Singapore was observing the government’s active stance on work life issues.

Unlike in the U.S. where private industry often fights any attempt to legislate work life supports (e.g. paid sick leave days and parental leave), corporations and government agencies in Singapore have formed a true partnership.

Most likely, the motivation for this coordinated effort is the country’s critical labor shortage. Regardless, it was fascinating to watch.

My host, Lim Yit Siang, who is the Assistant Director of the Family Education and Promotion Division, Ministry of Social and Family Development (pictured here putting me on my 21+ hour flight back to the U.S.) asked me to answer a question frequently posed by parents (particularly mothers) about how to “do it all” and have success, on and off the job.

My response is universal and applies to anyone who has tried to fit work, kids and life together…no matter where you live!

“I am a full-time mother with 2 children in primary school. My workload in the office is rather heavy and I find it difficult to make time for myself and my family. What can I do to improve the situation? Is it really possible to “have it all” – a fulfilling career as well as an enriching personal and family life?”

When you are a mother who works at a busy job and has two young children, it can be overwhelming. Not only do I understand professionally, but I can relate personally. I am a working mother of two, as well!

That being said, my research and experience have proven that if you regularly follow a few simple steps, you can find a “fit” between your work and personal life that let’s you be your best (not perfect, but your best), on and off the job.

First, stop trying to find a perfect “balance” or to “have it all.” All you can achieve is your unique work+life fit based on your work and personal circumstances on a given day, week, month or year. This relieves some of the pressure to get it “right,” and helps you focus on the possibilities for you, your job and your family based on your realities now.

Next, harness the power of small actions to achieve your work+life fit goals. I call these small, meaningful actions “tweaks,” and in your case it sounds like the tweaks you want to make happen involve self-care and your family. Too often we think big changes are the only way to address our challenges, when really small actions, if taken consistently and deliberately, make all the difference.

Then, follow a simple weekly work+life fit practice to put your “tweaks of the week” into action. Twenty years ago, clocks and walls told us where work ended and the other parts of life began. But as technology exploded and the global economy expanded the clocks and wall disappeared. We all became much more overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do when.

I spent a number of years studying the people I’d meet in companies who seemed to effortlessly manage to fit their work and life together. I call them the work+life “fit” naturals.

I learned that they follow a few simple steps that I translated into a weekly practice found in my new book, TWEAK IT: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day. The practice entails spending about twenty minutes each week:

1) Celebrating success. Give yourself credit for what you have accomplished at work, in your personal life and in your career for the week. It’s often more than you think.
2) Reviewing what you need to get done in the coming week. What you’ve already committed in at work, in your personal life and with your career development. And identify open slots in your work+life fit that you could fill with some additional, meaningful “tweaks” in areas that are important to you right now.
3) Pick the “standard tweaks,” or habits, you want to make part of your work+life fit over the next seven days, but also think about any “unique tweaks” or special, one-off actions. In your case, the standard tweaks you might pick include spending 15 minutes of one-on-one time with each of your children in the evening, or cooking a special meal together on a weekend night. A unique tweak could be celebrating a friend’s birthday one evening. Over 50 work, personal life and career experts offer their advice.
4) Record your “tweaks of the week” in your combined work and personal calendar and priority list. Try not to keep two separate calendars/ “to do” lists. Combine everything into one and create a complete picture of what you want to accomplish on and off the job.

By regularly following these simple steps, you will build a solid foundation of well-being and performance that will help you feel more in control and less overwhelmed personally and professionally. Remember, just “tweak it!”

What would you add?

I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost and on Facebook to continue the conversation!

 

 

 


Marissa Mayer and Work-Life Nirvana (My Q&A w/ Reuters)

(This article by Lauren Young appeared in Reuters.com on July 17, 2012)

The latest poster child for work-life nirvana is Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s newly appointed CEO – who is seven months pregnant.

Cali Williams Yost, a flexible work expert, says Mayer’s pregnancy is noteworthy and symbolic, but not career-defining.

Here are edited excerpts from an interview with Yost, a working mother of two daughters, based in Madison, New Jersey, and author of the forthcoming “Tweak It: Small Changes/Big Impact-Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day” (Center Street, January 2013).

Q. What does Mayer’s pregnancy mean for working women?

A. She is a powerful symbol of what people still think is impossible. The hullabaloo is that she challenges an outdated mindset. That’s why the fact that this is even happening is amazing; however, it’s not so amazing that it should be the sole focus of her tenure as the CEO of a company. It’s something to be remarked upon as what’s possible. It’s an example of how people combine work and life in a way that works for them.

My hope is that her story shows us that having a life – whatever that looks like, be it a pregnancy or an aging parent – should not keep you from doing your job. There will be women who don’t want to do what she’s doing, and there will be other women who look at her and say, “That’s me.”

Q. But most CEOs are not female.

A. Right. The only way women who are not very wealthy, in control of their schedules and in very senior positions can combine pregnancy and work is if we have all things we don’t have now. That includes affordable and reliable childcare, some kind of paid leave as well as eldercare support. For the normal, average, everyday woman, it’s much tougher.

Q. Why is “having it all” suddenly considered a failed theory? (For more, go to Reuters.com)


Think You Don’t Benefit Directly from Childcare? 3 “What’s In It for Me” That Will Change Your Mind

In her recent article “Occupy (Working) Motherhood,” Deborah Siegel makes the compelling case that our society still has a long way to go to support mothers who work, especially when it comes to affordable, quality childcare.

To understand the roadblocks that stand in the way of improving the state of childcare, you have to look no further than a comment left by a reader in response to Siegel’s article. The commenter explained,

By “affordable,” I assume you mean “subsidized by others outside my family.” Thanks, I’m spending enough on my own kids (and my wife chooses not to work outside the home) without having to subsidize your parenting choices.

In other words, if you have a child and you work, then you need to shoulder the entire expense of that child’s caregiving. And if you can’t, it’s not my problem because I don’t directly benefit from a system of affordable, high-quality childcare.

While it’s understandable how someone could reach that conclusion, the truth is that people who don’t have children or don’t use high quality, affordable childcare do in fact directly benefit in ways that aren’t necessarily apparent.

We need to do a much better job of explaining these “WIIFMs” or the “what’s in it for me” impacts if we wanted to make progress in this area.

So here are the “WIIFMs” I’ve observed over my 15 years in the trenches helping hundreds of organizations develop strategies to address work+life fit challenges. Hopefully they will encourage support because everyone will understand that they do benefit in the following ways:

WIIFM #1: Your colleagues with children aren’t distracted by breakdowns in care which benefits you. A few years ago, as part of a broader work-life strategy review and update for a Fortune 500 company, we conducted an ROI study of the organization’s childcare center system. The truth was that management was getting pressure to cut this benefit that was seen as unfairly favoring parents over other employees.

As I analyzed the data from our surveys, I wasn’t surprised by how much parents said their productivity and engagement increased from having the consistent, high quality care the center offered. What shocked me was how much their coworkers said they benefited by having more focused, less distracted colleagues.

Once all of the calculations were finished, we estimated that the ROI for the center annually was approximately 125%. Not bad.  Needless to say, the centers stayed. The bottom line is that you benefit when the parents you work with have support.

This doesn’t mean that the alternative answer to try to minimize the number of parents in the workplace through discriminating hiring practices. First, people are going to keep having kids. Second, you will lose many of your best and brightest employees and coworkers.  The better option is to support the creation of high quality, affordable care options either in house or in the community.  It’s the gift that will keep on giving to everyone.

WIIFM#2: The parents who provide important services that you count on will be able to show up and do their jobs. You can’t get a stronger “WIIFM” than that.  I was at a conference a couple of years ago where a team of researchers from Cornell presented their study of the impact of a grant in New York City that created a system of high-quality, in-home childcare providers. The grant also subsidized the cost of care for parents who were home health aides and guards in the New York City school system.

I wish I had a link to the study itself but here are a couple of the findings that stuck with me:

  • By training and licensing the in-home care providers, they created well-paying jobs that in many cases allowed the providers to expand and improve the services they offered.
  • The parents who had access to the affordable, high-quality care reported major improvements in a number of job performance metrics including fewer absences, less tardiness, more engagement on the job, fewer incident reports, etc.

In other words, because they had consistent, reliable care for their children, the guards in the schools were to show up more regularly and do their jobs better. This directly benefits you if your child goes to that school.  He or she is safer. Home health aides were able to show up to care for you aging parents or your ailing spouse. This directly benefits you because you are able to go to work.

WIIFM #3: A high quality, affordable system of support will be there if you need it (and there’s a good chance that you or someone you love will need it.) Building a system of high-quality, affordable childcare doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes years. Thankfully organizations like the United Way through its Success by Six initiative, as well as community advocacy groups like Long Island’s Early Years Institute are leading the charge even in the face of ongoing government cuts to funding. But as Siegel points out in her article, their efforts haven’t been able to make a difference for many parents.

Maybe you don’t need high quality, reliable child care today. And perhaps you never will. But that can change overnight. Over the years, I’ve met parents who, through an unexpected shift in circumstance like illness, death or divorce, find themselves needing care only to realize how hard it is to find. I’ve met grandparents who never had to access child care themselves, but now have a daughter struggling to provide for her family as a single mother without consistent, reliable support for her children.

Maybe the lack of affordable, quality care childcare doesn’t mean anything to you today, but you and those you love directly benefit from the insurance of knowing it’s there should you ever need it.

Many priorities are vying for limited resources on the local, state and federal level. However, in the debate regarding the need to create a system of high-quality, affordable childcare, the position that, “I don’t need to support it because I won’t use childcare and I won’t benefit” doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. You do benefit. We all benefit. Now, the question becomes, what are we going to to to make it better…finally?  What do you think?

If you haven’t already, I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost.


How Do I Tell My Boss I’m Pregnant

“How do I tell my boss that I’m pregnant?” When a young woman posed this question to a career panel I participated in recently, she reminded me why it’s important to review the basic work+life fit questions periodically. It’s easy to assume everyone knows the answers, when the truth is we often don’t.

So here’s a recap of the “when and how to tell” advice the panel offered:

First, tell your boss as soon as you are showing. Your boss, as well as the rest of the team, will know you’re pregnant. But they’ll be too scared to say something potentially illegal. So as soon as you are comfortable disclosing your good news, share it. The earlier they all know, the sooner everyone can plan for your time out of the office.

Second, offer no apologies when you break the news. Be happy and proud. This was great advice offered by the two senior executive women on the panel with me. Both of them had stories of taking new jobs only to find out a couple of weeks later that they were pregnant. Breaking the news to their respective new employers wasn’t easy but in both instances they received nothing but support.

Third, by the time you are ready to leave to have the baby, make sure that all of your work is covered by and transitioned to others. Trouble happens when you leave and the people you work with don’t know what’s going on with your projects, where to find information, etc. If managed the right way, maternity leaves should be an employer’s favorite work+life fit challenge. Why? Because unlike illness, a natural disaster or eldercare, pregnancy usually allows time for advanced planning.

Fourth, be clear about your expectations related to connectivity to work while you are out. Some women will want to send and answer emails on the delivery table. Others don’t want to have any interaction with work at all. Neither choice is right or wrong. It’s what works for you; however, try not to send mixed messages. If you email during your leave, work will assume that you want them to keep you in the loop. If you start one way and then change your mind, just let people know. Don’t suffer in silence.

What do you think?  How do you tell your boss that you are pregnant? Obviously this is a question on the mind of many young women. How can we help them navigate this big, happy transition as smoothly as possible?

(This post originally appeared on Forbes.com)


Ask Your Way To a Better Work-Life and Maternity Leave Terms

(I am pleased to welcome a long-time, veteran, work-life colleague, Pat Katepoo, founder of WorkOptions.com, as guest blogger. Online since 1997, Pat has equipped thousands of working mothers and others to request a flexible work arrangement at their current job.  Today, Pat is sharing strategies to help new moms maximize their maternity leave.)

Suppose some friends have invited you to join them for dinner at a casual restaurant. The menu is varied and has some acceptable choices, but nothing particularly appealing to you.

Then you spot a menu item that would suit your appetite perfectly if there was one ingredient switch.

Would you ask for the change? Or would you simply settle for something listed on the menu, as is?

If you’re a woman, more than likely you would settle for “as is.”

That’s not a statement of stereotype; it’s backed by ample studies which reveal women are far less likely than men to ask for what they want–or even recognize the options available to them.

In the book, Women Don’t Ask, authors Linda Babock and Sara Laschever do an extensive review of the empirical evidence which exposes dramatic gender-based differences in negotiating behavior.

They conclude that, as a “result of powerful social influences,” women have an “impaired sense of entitlement.” They often “assume that they are stuck with their circumstances” and refrain from asking for what they want.

Sound familiar? And it’s not age-related; younger women are impacted as much as older ones.

ASKING BEHAVIOR AND WORK-LIFE FIT

Over the years, I’ve observed a persistent pattern of nervousness about negotiating among the many women I’ve helped to propose a flexible work arrangement to their manager.

In the early years, I was baffled by this; here were highly accomplished career professionals expressing fear about asking for flexibility, as well as strong doubts about getting management approval.

They were in a strong position to ask, (AKA having high leverage), yet they often needed negotiation coaching and a confidence boost. Why?

The “why” became clear when I read Women Don’t Ask. The fear of asking, the low expectations, the safe targets, and the social drivers behind it all, explained a lot of what I saw.

I still see women’s “asking behavior” as a barrier to getting the work+life fit they need and want. Without prompting or guidance, many women simply won’t make the request.

It’s why Cali’s thorough treatment of “seeing the possibilities” and “asking and getting to yes” in the early chapters of her Work+Life book is so critical to fostering a desired outcome. And of immense more importance to one’s quality of life than switching out the grilled chicken for shrimp at dinner!

OPTIONS ARE WIDE OPEN FOR MATERNITY LEAVE

Focusing on possibilities sheds some positive light on an otherwise dim picture of maternity leave benefits in America.

What are the options for asking when the current maternity leave menu for most pregnant working women is lukewarm hodgepodge stew? (The recipe being a confusing mix of paid and unpaid time off– and not enough of it.)

In a perfect world, public policy and employer practices would drive better choices. Meanwhile, as with a flexible work-life fit, there are possibilities for something more than what’s offered IF women recognize their options, prepare their case, and present it in a professional manner–including a written proposal–then ASK for it.

That’s the purpose behind giving away free copies of Max Maternity Leave Proposal Template & Negotiation Guide.

In the 2011 version, I recommend a three-step strategy for getting a better-than-standard maternity leave. The third step is this: negotiate for leave terms that surpass the policy, whether there is one or not. Put another way, the given maternity leave menu options should be seen as the starting point. Asking for more expands the menu.

It might sound gutsy, but Max Maternity Leave provides a tactical framework that lays a strong foundation for asking for desired terms with confidence. At the same time, it provides a path to knowing, expanding and creating better options. Following is an example of each.

KNOW YOUR OPTIONS

There is a little-known provision under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that allows new moms to return to work part-time after maternity leave.

“Reduced leave schedule” as it’s called, is a hugely helpful phase-back-to-work option for those who can’t afford a full 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave, but who can afford a temporary part-time schedule.

The arrangement requires the employer’s agreement; from what I’ve seen, the woman who asks as part of her well-crafted maternity leave proposal usually gets it. (Dads can do this, too.)

EXPAND YOUR OPTIONS
A typical maternity leave menu choice is six to 12 weeks. But a strategic request for additional leave that’s not on the menu can deliver surprising results. Here’s how one woman’s request played out:

“I am a Director at a large health plan [employer] that I would not call flexible. I was prepared to take the standard 12 week leave, but I really wanted to take an extra month for a total of four months. Based upon your [strategies in Max Maternity Leave], I went for broke and asked for five months, hoping I could negotiate to four. The entire five months’ leave was approved and I’m thrilled!”

(Pages 5 and 6 of the free Max Maternity Leave guide outline the strategy for getting “supplemental leave.”)

CREATE YOUR OPTIONS

What about paid maternity leave? Understanding the conditions which foster getting paid maternity leave (beyond accumulated paid time off), having a strategy, then presenting a professional proposal, can have surprising payoffs. No guarantees, but worth the initiative.

While one to three extra paid weeks is a reasonable expectation, I’ve received some reports of approval for four to six weeks of paid maternity leave where the policy (if there was one) did not offer it. Unusual, but possible.

Know, expand or create your options–and ask for them. With a solid strategy, careful preparation and a detailed proposal, requesting something that’s not on the work-life or maternity leave menu can bring satiating results.

(For more, request a downloadable free copy of the Max Maternity Leave Proposal Template & Negotiation Guide from Pat’s new complimentary maternity leave advice service website, Maternity Leave Mentor.)