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Published 24 August 2012 13:14, Updated 24 August 2012 15:57
A couple of weeks ago I was on a Radio National program talking about Australians’ attitude to work. One of the women interviewed on the program was an equity partner at a prestigious law firm. She had been made a partner while pregnant and returned to work after her maternity leave three days a week. While she admitted there were times she struggled to keep to the part-time routine, she was wholeheartedly positive about the benefits of flexible working conditions for herself and her employer. Part-time means her employer retained her as a valuable leader in the business and she retained her sanity.
I’ve written in a previous blog about the assumption that people – men and women – who want to work part-time are “casual” in their attitude to work. Our vision of a typical part-timer is a mum who wants a bit of money and stimulation outside the home but whose main focus is her children. Her work is not a career but an afterthought. This vision ignores the many men and women who take their jobs seriously – and who have seriously demanding jobs – who work flexible hours.
Take me for instance. I work part-time. The nature of my work is that I work every day (sometimes even on weekends) but I get to choose how I organise my working day. I can go home early and cook a nice dinner, go for a run or catch up on my reading in a blissful empty house. My director also works part-time; she sticks to particular days of the week and works full days when she is in, free to pursue her other interests in teaching and study the rest of the week. My research director also works part-time, but as a working mum like me, is happy to work across a few days as long as she can get home early to her kids and beat the traffic. We are three part-timers in an industry – market research – known for flogging its staff with long hours.
I’m not pretending it’s not a struggle at times. It works largely due to the skill and diligence of us all, our ability to communicate as a team and the assistance of very organised full-time junior. But most of the time we make it work and the clients are barely aware we all work part-time. Indeed increasingly I am finding I work with marketing directors and insights managers who are themselves working four days a week or working a few days from home.
In their recent report Get Flexible: Mainstreaming Flexible Work in Australian Business, Diversity Council Australia has urged organisations to “mainstream” quality flexible work and careers as standard business practice, rather than “special treatment” bequeathed to a small number of employees coming back from mat leave or recovering from an illness. Their message is that working part-time shouldn’t mean you are – or want to – tread water in your career. (For case studies http://dca.org.au/News/News/Part-time-executive-women-show-working-flexibly-and-career-success-not-mutually-exclusive/288#success).
My team is proof that, with the right skills and support, part-time work and career success is possible.