April 11, 2008
Mothers' work dilemma
The Washington Post
KEVIN CLARK / WASHINGTON POST
WASHINGTON – I love my new job. It was absolutely the right choice for me.
But – isn't there always a but? – when I come in to work, I have to leave a little guy at home who has just learned to wave bye-bye with his chubby backward wave. So even though I feel excited about being back at work, I also feel guilty about not having more time with my 9-month-old, Sam.
The idea of working part time entered my mind off and on throughout my six-month maternity leave.
Many of my friends in similar situations worried about the same things I did: What would a part-time job do to my career? Would working fewer hours save money in child-care costs, or would I actually earn too little to make ends meet? And really ... does Sam even care?
For those of you who don't remember, I wrote the careers column for The Washington Post's Business section. I've come back to the paper in a new job. It allows me to work more predictable hours than I did as a daily reporter with a weekly column. That helped me easily make the decision (for now, at least) to work full time.
But the decision isn't so easy for many women. For those who have a choice, family, finances and career success are all major considerations when settling on a work schedule.
Julie Ingoglia considered working part time after Matthew (2 ½) and Giovanna (14 months) were born. But the family's insurance was covered through her job, and if she cut back on her work schedule, her insurance would also be cut back, as would her salary and her leave.
"I returned full time after both kids and pondered it a lot and still do," said Ingoglia, a senior analyst at the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
Ingoglia, 33, said she might eventually work part time.
Before her children were born, she went to graduate school to prepare herself for a job that could let her consult and therefore have a more flexible schedule.
She hopes that when the kids are school-age, she can reduce her work schedule.
"The decision was, I'd stay working full time now and reduce hours then," she said. She and her husband hope that at that point, he will have a higher salary to offset her pay reduction.
Stepping off the linear career path has become so common that it has a trendy vernacular.
It's not called "going part time" or even "quitting." It's "off-ramping." When it's time to go back to work and pursue a direct career path, you're said to be "on-ramping." Words aside, the way we work is being redefined, even if the changes are not universal.
Women are "redesigning careers to be a lattice instead of a ladder," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute.
If you view your career as a ladder and you jump off, Galinsky said, it's hard to get back on. The idea of a lattice implies more flexibility.
Patricia Fuentes works a 60 percent schedule in public relations at Freddie Mac. She decided to take that route after her first daughter (now 3 ½) was born. Nearly half of the employees at Freddie Mac work a nontraditional schedule.
"It's happening so much more, I think, because there are more women in the workplace," said Debi Gay, human-resources senior director at Freddie Mac. "Companies want to keep good people and have to be creative."
But not all careers or employers are set up for alternative schedules.
Colleen Kotyk Vossler, 36, worked at an international law firm when she had Andrew, now 4. After maternity leave, she came back on a reduced schedule.
She was soon working far more than she had expected.
Because she was billing more hours than an average attorney at her firm, she returned to a full-time schedule.
Ultimately, Vossler left the firm when her second child, Abigail, was 8 months old to take an in-house counsel position at BearingPoint, a management and technology-consulting company. She wanted a job that would continue to be a challenge but give her more flexibility. The trade-off? Less pay.
Before going part time, women need to take a hard look at their financial situations.
Fuentes and her husband created three spreadsheets to help them decide. They analyzed what life would be like with her working full time and paying for full-time child care.
Then they looked at their budget with her working 60 percent of the time and hiring part-time care. Finally, they assessed a situation in which Fuentes wouldn't work for pay at all and would be a full-time mom. The spreadsheets showed that a part-time work schedule was affordable.
"It worked out that it was a financial hit, but we could do it," Fuentes said.
Before Lippmann decided to go part time, she and her husband looked at their previous year's savings, then calculated how much less they would be able to put away. They determined that on her reduced schedule they could still contribute something to their 401(k)s.
Vossler took what she called a significant pay cut for her job as an in-house counsel. But she also had additional day-care expenses for her second child, hoisting the bill from $16,000 to about $30,000 a year.
She and her husband have been talking about cutting back on their 401(k) contributions to have more cash on hand.
The family is also sacrificing short-term goals, such as taking big vacations, to stay on pace with retirement savings. Instead of buying trendy luxuries, they apply their money to house renovations and do much of the work themselves.
"We're focusing ourselves to stay within a budget," she said.
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