By guest blogger: Karen Catlin
I remember the day I told my boss that I was pregnant with my first child. We were having a one-on-one meeting, and my manager, Joe, presented me with an exciting opportunity: a promotion to director of quality assurance. There was a caveat: one of my main responsibilities would be to break up the department within three months, decentralizing the quality teams to report directly into the software development teams. It wasn't going to be easy, and I'd have to trust that there would be more responsibility for me to pick up after reorganizing the department. I remember smiling, saying yes to the promotion, and then explaining that I was pregnant and wanted to work part-time when I returned after my maternity leave. His response? "Cool!"
With that promotion, I began a new phase of my career. I worked a reduced schedule (75%) for the next ten years, during which I had two children, learned how to be a parent in tandem with developing my leadership style, and grew my responsibilities. I was even promoted to vice president while working part-time.
To this day, I am so very thankful that I was able to work reduced hours. I had more time with my kids, scheduled doctor's appointments without worrying about missing work, enrolled in parent-child education programs, and volunteered at our school. I was also pretty efficient at work, honing in on what needed to be done and steering clear of things that wouldn't make a difference. It was a winning combination for me.
As you might imagine, women often ask me for advice about how to work part-time. Often it is because they are about to have a baby, but I've also heard from women who have a medical condition, want to return to school, or want to devote more time to a hobby. Here's what I tell them:
* Ask if your company has an official part-time policy. Your Human Resources representative will know. If there is a policy, talk to people who have utilized it to understand their experience.
* You need to ask. Chances are, your manager is not going to offer a reduced schedule without you initiating a conversation about it.
* Suggest a trial period, where you work part-time for 3 or 6 months. By doing so, you give yourself time to figure out how to make things work, you send the message that you are open to feedback about the new schedule, and you give your manager peace of mind that they aren't agreeing to the schedule for the rest of your career (just in case things don't work out). The trial period also gives you an easy path back to full-time employment in case you aren't happy with the reduced schedule.
* Understand your company's benefits. While you can estimate the change to your salary, don't forget to look at your entire compensation package. Some benefits may be offered only to full-time employees, some might be reduced for part-time schedules. You need to evaluate your needs and determine if you can afford the change in benefits.
* Be realistic about how many hours you need to work to still have a viable role. Based on my experience in the software industry, I believe the minimum should be 24 hours/week, the ideal is 30-32. I tried working just 20 hrs/week for about a year, and I really couldn't get much beyond the basics done. All of my time was spent working on emails and in meetings, leaving me with no time to think strategically about opportunities.
* Be aware of culture in designing your schedule. If your company expects employees to be available 24x7, to work evenings during crunch times, or to check emails on weekends, be sure you are doing your part. When your colleagues are working more than the 40 hours they are being paid for, you need to put in extra hours as well.
I am a strong believer in part-time roles, and I've seen many successful examples in tech companies. If you think a reduced schedule could help you achieve your personal goals, I encourage you to explore it! If you already have experience working part-time, what advice do you have for others who are considering it? I look forward to hearing from you.
Karen Catlin, a former high-tech executive, is now a leadership coach and author of "Use Your Inside Voice", a blog about the intersection of leadership and parenting. She is passionate about helping technical women have successful careers.