Get creative with your work-life flexibility

When I became a partner at Moody Nolan 20 years ago, our architecture firm — like many professional services firms — had no maternity leave policy. I worked hard, in collaboration with others, to change that.

Today, most professional services firms provide women with maternity leave. And yet we’ve found that to attract and retain talent, leave is only one piece of the pie. Today’s employer must not only tolerate, but champion policies leading to work-life balance for both women and men.

A look at the problem

The American Institute of Architects last year surveyed its members to find out why women make up around 45 percent of architecture students but only about 35 percent of practicing architects. Two key themes emerged: concern about work-life balance, and long work hours and lack of job flexibility that make starting a family difficult.

We knew even 20 years ago that these were problems. So, with the support of our president and CEO, we adopted a policy that gave women six weeks leave for regular birth and eight weeks for a C-section.

Yet, we also knew that leave alone was not enough to address retention. Over time, one of my priorities became providing the flexibility women and men need to care for their families while remaining in the profession.

A more flexible approach has resulted in a variety of work schedules. A few women in my group work full time, spreading the hours over four days. The majority of those on flexible schedules work part time, averaging 30 to 32 hours a week. This is achieved either by scheduling fewer hours each day or fewer days each week.

It requires honesty and trust

Flexible scheduling requires honest conversations between employees and their managers.

It’s easy to lose track of the fact that someone working Monday through Thursday might not be available for a meeting on Friday. Likewise, parents with small children often are not in a position to take on assignments that involve a lot of travel.

This doesn’t mean that part-time employees don’t sometimes need to change their schedules to meet an important deadline or to meet with a client. Just as often, however, we find ways to hold the meeting on another day or send another project team member to the meeting. If a deadline is looming and an employee needs to work at home on a scheduled day off, she will.

This requires a lot of trust, but for my firm that trust has been well served.

Of our 190 employees, about 70 percent are women, an anomaly in the industry. I like to think that this is because of our work-life policies, although I know it’s also due to the fact that as the nation’s largest African-American owned architecture firm, diversity has always been a way to energize our creative environment and to better understand a diverse clientele.

Either way, a focus on work-life balance is an investment that helps with attraction and retention of talent, and a diversity of creative thought that can benefit an entire organization.

 

Eileen Goodman is the Principal in Charge of Interior Design at Moody Nolan. When Eileen joined Moody Nolan she was the first and only interior designer at the firm. Goodman today manages a staff of 30, which is the largest interiors department in Columbus.