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Moving the Needle on Work Flexibility

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 28/10/2015 Emma Plumb
WORKING MOM © Chris Craymer via Getty Images WORKING MOM

This year, National Work and Family Month has taken on a whole new personal meaning for me: I'm celebrating it as a new mom to a beautiful 4-month old baby girl. So I was incredibly pleased that one of my first tasks after my leave this summer was to kick off NWFM 2015 by joining WorldatWork's roundtable discussion "Rethinking the Workweek."
And it also seemed especially fitting that my work trip to D.C.'s National Press Club to talk about the need for change in the workplace brought with it a whole host of work/life-related challenges specific to my new life as a working mom.
Formerly, a typical work trip for me would have involved: letting my husband know I'd be away; tossing a few things into a bag the morning of my trip; hopping on a flight or a train with a good book; and enjoying seeing a new place, meeting up with colleagues, and having a restful night away from home.
This time, things were a little different. To start with, I wasn't on my own: both my daughter and my husband joined me -- with my husband taking two days off from his own job (unpaid) to act as caregiver. Packing took planning (how many diapers to bring?), and making sense of the pack-and-play (no small feat). With all of us travelling together, flying or taking a train were off the table: instead, our best option was to drive -- an eight hour journey each way. And after multiple stops and efforts to keep our daughter entertained, by the time we got to D.C., we were exhausted. Despite starting our bedtime routine early in hopes of all getting a solid night's sleep, continued babbles at 3:30 a.m. made it crystal clear that sleep was a lost cause.
I've been talking about the need for change in the workplace for years now, but never from the perspective of a working mom. In fact, I've been keen to highlight all the various other reasons we need to shift the way we think about work, and I've written about how it can't take becoming a mom to understand that the workplace is broken.
But I have a new appreciation for the particular challenges involved in juggling parenthood and work. And whereas I was formerly frustrated by the fact that we are still dragging our feet around improving the way that work gets done, I'm now utterly astonished.
Parents: come on! Why aren't you up in arms about how work doesn't work? Why aren't you shouting it from the rooftops?
Having a child has not diluted my intelligence. It has not stripped away my master's degree or my years of work experience, or any of my qualifications. It has, however, made it a near logistical impossibility for me to conform to the rigid structure of a traditional office job. As any parent -- mom or dad -- surely must know. So why on earth is it taking us all so long to embrace a flexible work model that makes sense for a 21st century workforce?
As I noted during the panel in D.C., the business case for flex is clear: cost savings, higher productivity, disaster preparedness, lower carbon footprint, and more -- and yet, all the data in the world hasn't been enough to move the needle here, because change takes more than statistics. Smokers know all the facts about the dangers of smoking but still smoke.
What will move the needle, however, is stories about our shared experiences of how ridiculous it is to be expected to sit at a desk until precisely 5:00 p.m., when leaving a little earlier and making up the time in the evening would mean being present for your son's parent-teacher conference. How ridiculous it is that you can't take two hours in the afternoon to take your daughter to her wellness check-up, when you know you'll be on email that night anyway. How ridiculous it is to waste three hours a day stuck in a commute in order to sit alone at your computer in a cubicle, when that wasted time could be spent with your child and your job could be done from anywhere.
I'm still adamant that it can't take becoming a mom to recognize that work needs to change. But parenthood can inspire a whole new outlook on life, and can light a fire where you never knew you had one.
My dad was a smoker. He was also a doctor -- a surgeon -- who understood the science behind the risk he was taking, and that knowledge wasn't enough to make him quit. What did finally inspire him to stop was my mom's pregnancy with me: his desire for a healthy child and a long life of fatherhood were the incentives he needed to make a change.
For my dad, his efforts to quit came too late, and he died from lung cancer at 46 when I was five. Parents, I implore you: let's not wait until we've missed our opportunity to fix our broken work model. This National Work and Family Month, join me and become one of the 1 Million for Work Flexibility to help finally create a better workplace for our employers, our children, and ourselves.

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