Flexibility is a key factor in helping women not only survive, but thrive, in the workforce. (Especially as we wait for federally-mandated paid leave—we're just a few decades behind the rest of the world on that one.) But here’s the thing: there’s a playbook to successfully asking for a flexible schedule, says Lauren Smith Brody, author and founder of The Fifth Trimester. (Rule number one: don’t think of flexibility as a favor—this is a natural evolution of your career development.) Keep these tips in mind before sitting down with your boss and making the ask.
Start with research
This is something you can do as soon as you find out you're pregnant (or even before): dig into what companies competitive with your own are offering in terms of flexibility. Does your company lag behind? During negotiations, make the case that catching up with your competitors (or becoming a leader among the pack) offers a recruiting edge and is better for business, says Brody.
Make it about your job
The ask for flexibility may be entirely about being there for your baby, but during negotiations, keep the conversation about business. In the most simple terms, you want to explain how you’re going to do your job in the framework of flexibility, and do it in a way that’s actually more beneficial to the company, says Brody. “There’s an answer to that question—go figure it out.” The truth is, you are better, and more efficient, than you were before having a baby. “You’ve been trained by this little 8-pound drill sergeant to not need transition time between tasks—there’s no reset before you’re jumping on to the next project,” says Brody. Another mom perk: we give more meaningful, committed yeses to projects, because we’re used to doing the mental math on what we’ve actually got time for, says Brody.
Propose a simple plan
The last thing you want to do is walk into your boss's office to talk about flexibility in general terms. Come in with a plan, or a few plans, for what your arrangement would look like, whether it’s a compressed Wednesday, Friday from home, remote Thursday morning, and so on. “Offer a good sense of what your job description is in its most simple form, and how you’re going to deliver and then some in this proposed schedule,” says Brody. A 10-slide deck might be overkill, but quick bullets you can leave with your boss are helpful.
Ask to try it out temporarily
“It’s much harder for an employer to say no to 'can we try it?'' says Brody—so ask for a month or two month trial with your new arrangement. Odds are, you’ll excel in your flexible schedule and won’t have to bargain hard to keep it going. At the very least, you’ve bought yourself a few months of sanity with a tiny babe. Their needs will change as time goes on, and your schedule can, too.
It’s not the end of the road if your boss rejects your request to work from home two days a week, or won’t budge about that compressed work day. Think about other ways you can make your transition back to work slightly easier. For example, see if you steal time from your parental leave, and use those days to have an abbreviated week during that first or second month back, says Brody. “Just that graduated schedule has been shown to improve retention.”