For some reason, our corporate culture continues to falsely conflate a part-time schedule—or PartTime, as it's called in our Flexiverse—with a lack of ambition. But many PartTime workers are just as passionate about their work as their full-time peers—and just as capable of climbing the career ladder. Unfortunately, a bias against flexible policies can hold them back from getting access to the flexibility they need—and this can be a detriment to employees and employers alike.
"Many times these policies are on the books, but informally everyone knows you are penalized for using them," Center for Work-Life Law founding director Joan C. Williams told The New York Times in 2013. "I invented the term 'flexibility stigma' to describe that phenomenon. Recent studies have found that it is alive and well, and it functions quite differently for women than it does for men."
That same year, Cornell economics professors Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn published a study finding that the share of working-age women in the American workforce has not expanded like it has in other countries, and these researchers speculated the share would have been 7 points higher had women had access to the other countries' policies, including the right to PartTime work. "This suggests we could go higher if we worked on these work-life balance issues," Blau told the Times.
The flexibility stigma is particularly pervasive for women who often utilize PartTime to devote more time to caregiving, and who often find their ambitions trivialized. "When part-time options are available, professionals are often pejoratively branded 'mommy-tracked' when they choose that path," clinical psychologist Yael Chatav Schonbrun observed in an Elephant Journal essay. "Even as we keep a foot in our professional lives, the tangible means of reward, recognition, and remuneration we enjoy are significantly reduced because of the limited time we are devoting."
And for many women who can't access PartTime flexibility, dropping out of the workforce—or "opting down" into less challenging, often lower paying roles—seems to be the only option. Of the 30% of women who leave the workforce after having a child, 70% say they would have stayed if they had access to flexibility.
In our research study, we also discovered a demand for PartTime flexibility across genders. Overall, 49 percent of employees want access to PartTime but only 16 percent actually have access. And for millennial men, the interest in PartTime is even stronger, signaling a shift in family structures, with men taking on more caregiving and homemaking responsibilities. Indeed, in that same Times article, organizational psychologist Kenneth Matos pointed out a "daddy track" coinciding with the mommy track. "We tend to talk about what happens to women, but we don't talk about what happens to men, and we wonder why women are stuck," he said.
Parents aren't the only demographic who might need PartTime work. The above-50 set, for example, is eying PartTime employment as an alternative to full-time retirement. According to a recent Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans plan to work beyond traditional retirement age, and 63 percent will do so on a PartTime basis. And according to a 2015 AARP study, 37 percent of working Americans aged 50 to 65 intend to work after retiring from their current careers. Additionally, many of those workers' ambitions lie outside their current career track: 44 percent intend on entering new fields of interest. For example, financial planner Scott Hanson told CNBC he had seen a Fortune 500 company manager who retired and then started teaching high school and an engineer who retired and then started consulting for Google.
At Werk, we define PartTime as a "reduced hours schedule," making certain to assert that a reduction of hours does not mean a reduction of ambition. "PartTime does not mean an individual is no longer in an advancement track role," the definition explains. "Employees utilizing PartTime have the experience and skills to meet their objectives on a reduced hours schedule." Werk is committed to removing structural barriers to career ambitions for everyone, including those who need to work fewer than 40 hours a week—for whatever reason.