Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Study in Contrasts

When I get to thinking about whether telecommuting is destroying my chances to advance in my so-called career, or whether I'm just on the edge of a wave of telecommuting that will be sweeping my fine employer in the coming energy-strapped years, I always seem to come back to thinking about FMLA. You know, that great law that says you can take twelve weeks of unpaid leave from your job if you have a baby, adopt a kid, or have a serious illness in your immediate family.

Don't get me wrong, it really is a great law, and having experienced blatant but unactionable pregnancy discrimination at a former employer that was too small to fall under FMLA, I appreciate the way it's leveled the playing field for women who aren't opting out but who do need a little time after procreating to adjust to the new pup.

But this is also kind of my problem with it: men could use leave for these same purposes under FMLA, but in general practice they don't, making it yet another reason why women make less money than men.

And this brings me to telecommuting policies. Looking at it from an epistemological perspective, telecommuting is gender neutral, right? Everyone benefits from reduced commuting costs, reduced impact on the environment, the luxury of uninterrupted thinking time in which to accomplish great things, flexibility to accomplish work in off hours, and the like.

So why is it that when I am scanning the internet I see article after article like this vaguely nauseating Mother's Day press release from Xerox? Flextime and telecommuting will help you retain men, too. The other thing that is making me crazy about this press release is that most of the women who are using these flexible arrangements are administrative assistants. Xerox, tell me about your top salesperson in the midwest region who works from her home office and still brings in $100 million in revenue. Please?

Of course, there are also articles like this, about how some big firms are actively working to get rid of the glass ceiling impression that one might get about flexible work arrangements by featuring the high-level men who are using them. This seems like a really smart strategy -- if in fact it is true that partaking of a telecommuting program or working flex hours to better accommodate your home life will not be career suicide in the firm. Show me people who have been consistently promoted, given more managerial responsibility, and more money after they started flexing/telecommuting/job sharing. That will make me want to explore telecommuting myself, and might make my manager more eager to embrace the magic.

No comments: