I'm a working mum who had to take a salary cut after my company changed its work-from-home policy. Mandatory on-site work is especially damaging to mothers — let's put it behind us for good.

Megan FeldmanMegan Feldman Bettencourt.
  • Megan Feldman Bettencourt is an award-winning author, keynote speaker, marketing content consultant, and working mum.
  • After having her second child, Feldman Bettencourt was preparing to return to full-time work when her manager told her she’d no longer be able to work from home one day each week, as she’d been doing for four years.
  • Feldman Bettencourt decided to switch to a four-day schedule to be able to balance her career with time with her children, but the move cost her most of her benefits and 20% of her salary.
  • Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has proved many professionals can successfully work from home, Feldman Bettencourt says that all on-site work requirements, especially for working parents, should be left in the past.
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When my youngest child was three months old, I was preparing to return to my job as a content lead at a marketing agency when my manager called. After reconfirming my start date the following week, he paused. “Oh,” he said, “And the whole work-from-home thing is going away.”

My stomach dropped.

I’d worked from home at least one day a week for the past four years, since having my first child. That one day without an hour-long commute each way was everything to me – and now that I had to drop two kids off at different places before catching the train, the trip would be 90 minutes one way. That equated to 15 hours per week in transit – not working, parenting, or doing the dishes.

Just when I needed more flexibility, a unilateral policy change gave me less.

This happened months before COVID-19 forced a surge in telecommuting, and the memory highlights a fact that we’d do well to remember as states reopen: The demand that employees commute to the office five days a week is undesirable to most Americans, and especially damaging to mothers.

Let’s put it behind us for good.

The structure of the modern five-day work week was formed long before women comprised a large part of the workforce, when most American families had one full-time breadwinner and one full-time caregiver. That structure is incompatible with being the primary caregiver. Mothers who work outside the home still do more childcare and housework than their husbands, handling the lion’s share of dishes, cooking, cleaning, and meal planning, not to mention the coordination of doctor’s appointments and extracurricular activities.

Add a long commute and inflexible hours to that already-heaping plate, and the result is a hellish, Sisyphean schedule – especially for mums with infants who don’t sleep through the night.

It’s no surprise that many mothers leave the workforce if they can.

Nearly a third of women who left jobs after having kids said they did so because of a lack of flexibility that made parenting too difficult, according to a recent survey. Those who remain in the workforce are often sidelined for promotions because they opt for part-time schedules.

After I was told I could no longer work from home on Fridays, I requested a six-month transition period and was denied. So, I switched to a four-day schedule. While I was grateful for the time with my daughter, it cost me 20% of my salary and most of my benefits.

The company had rescinded the weekly work-from-home option not because of productivity problems, but out of concern that offering it only to mothers was unfair. When I asked why they didn’t extend it to all employees, the president said not everyone could be trusted to work remotely. This anti-flex bias also extended to advancement. If I wanted to work on a large client account, my manager hinted that I would have to return full-time, on-site. And I would have preferred to remain a full-time employee on track for greater responsibility, if only my employer would have met my need for flexibility.

This is not only bad for mothers, it’s also bad for business.

The benefits of having a substantial number of women in leadership posts include higher profits and more innovation. Since more than 80% of women become mothers, offering schedule or location flexibility is a sure way to increase leadership diversity.

COVID-19 has only worsened the loads of working mothers. Attempting eight hours of work while nursing infants, chasing toddlers, and homeschooling older children is a special kind of hell. And yet, the fact that people are still getting their work done refutes the claim that working from home isn’t working at all. Research shows that people are more productive, not less, when allowed to work from their preferred location.

Let’s leave the obsession with office “FaceTime” behind us – not only for mothers, but for fathers, too.

At least 33% of both mothers and fathers said in a survey by the consulting firm Werk that workplace structure prevented them from being the parents they want to be.

So, do we extend remote options to everyone who can work from their dining room tables? Yes. As long as parents have childcare, more flexibility means happier, more productive workers and less turnover. One of my consulting clients is a marketing agency that offers a variety of part-time schedules and weekly remote work options for full-timers. The firm has 3% turnover compared to a whopping 25% for their industry.

After three months of widespread remote work due to the pandemic, companies like Facebook and Google are overhauling their work-from-home policies to allow more flexibility. In whatever passes for the new normal, let’s hope more companies choose that route.

Megan Feldman Bettencourt is the author of the award-winning book Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World. Her writing has appeared in publications including Psychology Today, Salon, Harper’s BAZAAR, The San Francisco Chronicle, and many others. Feldman Bettencourt is also a keynote speaker and content consultant.

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