Having it all: Women juggling family, careers find more flexibility

Melissa A. Erickson

If you’re lucky enough to have beautiful children and a job you love, people have probably told you, “You have it all.”

But working mothers know just how difficult it is to balance work and family and still have five minutes to themselves. It’s true that every mother is a working mother, but women who work outside the home must be especially adept at juggling the demands of family and the stress of a career.

Women work for a variety of reasons. Most need, or at least enjoy, the financial rewards. Others are driven to explore and expand an intellectual side not able to blossom while staying at home with children.

There is no arguing that women who stay home with their children are serving a valued and important role in society. But the 26 million U.S. women who work bring inestimable benefits to their families.

“The No. 1 reason women work is financial,” said Carol Evans, chief executive officer for Working Women Media. “But the No. 2 reason is that working allows women to feel a sense of fulfillment about utilizing the skills and training, the professional persona, they worked so hard to build.”

Today’s woman has formed an identity that often includes a sense of career, something not common in the past. So even if mothers take time off to raise young children, they think of it as just that — time off. Whether it’s one year or five years or more, most women believe they will re-enter the work force and are simply taking a break.

Author and educator Joan J. Peters argues that women who work light the way for their children.

“Mothers who work are better role models for their children because they show their children that all people, men and women, get to have work, love, individuality and family.

“If they see mothers pursuing self, it gives them permission to develop their individuality without feeling guilty or sorry for the mom who gave hers up,” said the author of “When Mothers Work: Loving Our Children Without Sacrificing Ourselves.”

Luckily, for both working and stay-at-home mothers, the “mommy wars” of years ago have diminished greatly. Society no longer judges women for choosing to work — or not.

“It’s all about choice, more than ever before,” Evans said.

And the workplace is adapting by growing more and more supportive, said Sandra L. Stewart, an executive coach and consultant.

One way business is adapting is by “setting up infrastructure to accommodate virtual offices including working from home, and women are taking advantage of this. Businesses can see the advantages of a geographically fluid work force that allows more freedom to the employee,” Stewart said.

Other encouraging trends affecting working mothers include longer and increasingly paid maternity leave. The Family Medical Leave Act requires companies with more than 50 employees to offer 12 weeks of unpaid family leave. To stay competitive, some companies are offering up to 16 weeks of paid leave, Evans said.

Additionally, it’s not uncommon for companies to offer at week or two of paid paternity leave.

Another trend that supports women returning to the workplace is companies that allow women to phase back into work after maternity leave. Perhaps the new mom will work two days a week at first then gradually increase her hours.

Flexibility in the workplace is nothing new, but it remains the top priority for working women.

“Women want flexibility,” Evans said.

That means being able to leave work to take a child to the doctor or to attend a music program at school or even to work fewer hours over the summer.

The best companies for working women are doing all this. To see Working Women Magazine’s top 100 companies, visit


Triple The millions of women in the workplace tripled between 1948 and 1995, from 17 million to 60 million.

33% Percentage of working wives who earn more than their husbands.

25% Percentage of full-time working mothers (with children under 18) taking advantage of flexible scheduling in the workplace.

72% Percentage of mothers with children younger than 18 who are employed in some manner.

$600 Median weekly earnings (from 2006) for full-time female workers per week vs. $743 for males, meaning that full-time working women earn 80.8 percent of what full-time working men earn.

— Bureau of Labor Statistics


Famous woman who have had it all

Hillary Clinton New York senator and major contender in the 2008 presidential race

Cindy Crawford International  supermodel, business owner and former T.V. host

Marie Curie First female Nobel Prize winner in physics and chemistry

Angelina Joile Actress and Goodwill Ambassador for UN Refugee Agency

Sandra Day O’Connor First female U.S. Supreme Court Justice