Flexible schedules rank way up there among working women’s top priorities at their employers. In fact, 62% of women who use my company’s employer-review platform InHerSight call flexibility a “must-have.” But all too often, requests to work remotely to care for a sick child or to take an aging parent to the doctor are up to the whims of individual supervisors and managers. And women, research suggests, are typically penalized more than men when they ask to occasionally work outside the usual 9-to-5 work day.
The fact is that while plenty of employers may claim to offer flexibility, few have formal policies allowing team members to take equal advantage of that. So we dug into the data here at InHerSight and identified a couple of employers that do seem to be getting it right (see our full list of top employers for flexibility). Here’s why employees at these companies give their organizations high marks for remote work and flexible schedules.
Distinguish flex time from flex leave
Boston Consulting Group, the global management firm, scores 4.2 out of 5 for its flexible work hours. One likely reason? BCG employees can take advantage of two kinds of flexibility: flex time and flex leave. The latter is meant to cover wide-ranging activities in team members’ personal lives, whether it’s coaching a child’s soccer team or ticking off bucket-list pursuits. Employees on flex leave typically unplug and go off the grid during those periods.
With flex time, however, BGC employees can work 60–80% of the full-time schedules and not get thrown off the career ladder. The company says that’s a top priority of the policy. For instance, someone temporarily working on a reduced schedule can continue to progress toward a promotion at a rate slightly above their working capacity level.
“It’s fundamental for there to be a way that you can do this and stay on the line to becoming a partner or a principle, that you are still accruing credit and tenure,” says Jennifer Garcia-Alonso, Global Women@BCG Director. “It cannot be a side-track.” Many of the company’s partners–both women and men–have taken advantage of both options, she adds.
Encourage employees to personalize their hours
Sterling-Rice Group, a marketing and advertising agency based in Boulder, Colorado, doesn’t have formal part-time or flex-time policies. But its employees still rank the company 4.4 out of 5 on flexible work, in part because it actively invites current and prospective staffers to propose whatever alternative arrangements they may need.
According to Amy Krill, the firm’s managing director of human resources, opportunities for flexible schedules play out in different ways. The company frequently considers reduced hours and remote work from the very beginning–that is, during the hiring process–rather than waiting for employees to come forward with those requests later on.
When new parents return from leave, Krill says Sterling-Rice coaches managers to check in with them during the first couple of months to see how things are going and whether more flexibility might be helpful. Indeed, new parents are encouraged to imagine what their “dream return-to-work” looks like, she says, so that the company can plan as best as possible to deliver that.
“We don’t want to define ways of flexing,” Krill explains. “We want to leave it open to what [employees] want or what they need. Everyone has different needs and desires. We want them to come forward with it and see what we can work with.”
Related: Remote work is now the new normal
Start with culture, not scheduling
Indeed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to workplace flexibility, which means that simply rolling out a policy might not be enough. For example, many employees may love the idea of flex work but worry that it’ll hamper their careers–and wind up leaving that option on the table as a result. “You have to help people understand how it’s going to enable them to actually get the work done,” Garcia-Alonso says.
Happy, productive employees tend to stick around, after all. In 2015 Boston Consulting Group made it easier for staffers to request flexible work schedules. Since then, the firm has implemented a battery of programs and investments in women’s retention in particular and says it’s seen promising results. Retention is a primary goal at Sterling-Rice, too, especially when it comes to preserving gender diversity. “We are 66% female; 66% of the leadership team is female, too,” Krill says. “The more we can create programs to support people . . . the more we can retain them.”
But Garcia-Alonso points out that these policies and approaches shouldn’t just be about keeping women on board. “We are increasingly making sure than men are empowered and enabled to use flex and are having a great experience,” she says. In other words, flex work tends to work best when it’s a cultural value that’s open to all–instead of a scheduling perk built for some and not others.
Ursula Mead is founder and CEO of InHerSight, an anonymous company ratings platform tailored specifically to women.
Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly suggested that Boston Consulting Group employees on reduced schedules can progress at the same pace as their full-time colleagues, while in practice flex-time workers are able to advance professionally at a slightly accelerated rate relative to their own hours worked. The story has been updated.