MAKING FLEX-TIME RESPECTABLE ... by portraying it as "macho"? A radical idea! If all employees make use of flexible hours and paid family leave, then women are less likely to be penalized for doing so. The Wall Street Journal (subscription req'd) reports today that some companies, including the accounting firm Ernst & Young, are attempting to do just that by "redefining the issue as a quality-of-life concern for everyone."

While flex-time and other family-friendly policies have long been touted as a way for women to get ahead in the corporate world, they often carry the "mommy track" stigma, making many women reluctant to take advantage of these options.

In a survey of 2,443 women college graduates released by her center and the Harvard Business Review, 35% of respondents thought they would be penalized for taking advantage of their employer's work-life policies. ... about two-thirds of professional women who stop working would stay if they had a "recognized and respectable" way to scale back.

Ernst & Young -- which employs a flexibility-strategy leader and has amenities like on-site child care -- is leaps and bounds ahead of many other U.S. firms that still lack basic flex-time options. But their thinking on this, that employees (regardless of gender) should create schedules, hours and career tracks to fit their personal needs, might have a positive effect on the way other companies (even those that are significantly smaller) approach work-life policies. After all, this isn't just some feminist group releasing yet another report calling for women-friendly workplaces. It's a huge firm that's already instituting these changes and attempting to do so in a gender-neutral fashion, which makes it a much more concrete step in the right direction.

--Ann Friedman

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