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The Flexibility Stigma: How a Weekly Meeting on Monday Nights Can Shut off your Access to Top Talent

Source | LinkedIn : By Stacey Epstein

A few years ago, I was interviewing with a CEO at a hot pre-IPO company for a Chief Marketing Officer role. We enjoyed an immediate connection and were having a great conversation when the first red flag popped up. “We have our weekly management meetings on Monday nights,” he said casually.

Rewind … what?! I tried to wipe the quizzical look off my face. As I mentally tucked away this weekly evening commitment in my mind for further pondering, he dropped that they have quarterly management off-sites that span a week and two weekends.

I left the meeting with a mixture of excitement about the company and the connection I’d made with the leader, but with a pit in my stomach about how much the job would take me away from my family. In my 20s and 30s I wouldn’t have batted an eye. Working on a Monday night would have been the norm. But now, as a working mom with two littles, evenings and weekends are all the time I have to connect with them. And since my eldest visits her dad every other weekend across the bay, missing one weekend means I may not have a quality day with her for three straight weekends.

Ironically, later that evening I got a call from the recruiter. He said, “The CEO loved you, but he’s heard you may not be as focused on putting in the hours since you have kids. You’re going to have to address that in your next meeting.”

The gender gap in business is a dominating part of the dialogue about the future of work. But it’s not just equal pay that drives women’s career decisions. In the NY Times last week, Claire Cain Miller put it perfectly in How to Close a Gender Gap: Let Employees Control Their Schedules. “Flexibility regarding the time and place that work gets done would go a long way toward closing the gaps, economists say. Yet when people ask for it, especially parents, they can be penalized in pay and promotions. Social scientists call it the flexibility stigma, and it’s the reason that even when companies offer such policies, they’re not widely used.”

It’s hard to question the value women can bring to business (if you do, read my theses on the topic: You Know Your Company Needs More Women, But Do You Know Why and 5 Reasons Your Company Needs More Moms). But, to attract more women to business and leadership, flexibility is key.

You can be sure I addressed the recruiter’s concern. As someone who has never lacked a strong work ethic, I made it clear that for me, performance doesn’t correlate to “hours in the office.” Six to 8 p.m. are literally the only quality hours I have with my family on weekdays. Two short hours out of a 24-hour day for the most important people in my world? I’m not willing to sacrifice that on a regular basis. Of course, a late night with the team is required at times, but a company that requires long hours “in the office” isn’t a good fit for me.

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