“In order to get to the top of the food chain, you have to own something big and ugly -- an ERP implementation, for example, or a slot machine implementation at a casino,” says Carol Pride, CIO of Pinnacle Entertainment, a gaming company that operates casinos throughout North and South America. “Often, the first big-and-ugly project coincides with the time one is trying to raise young children.”
Pride, who credits her “unusually supportive spouse” as instrumental to her success, cautions against trivializing the balance between work and family at this critical junction. “Women often realize, rationally, that children are more important than companies,” she says. “But if you don’t do the big and ugly, then it ends up hindering you later.”
Proving one’s professional fortitude through this rite of passage has long been a tradition in IT, and though results-driven promotion incentives are certainly justifiable, many companies stand to lose out in the long term by keeping their project philosophy “big and ugly” -- especially those that fail to play a role in helping employees strike a fruitful work/family balance. And the chief step companies can take to ensure that experienced, knowledgeable workers stay onboard through this life transition is to offer telecommuting and flexible work hours whenever possible.
“Twenty years ago, it was impossible for a woman to be on the soccer field and at a meeting at the same time, but now technology makes that possible,” says Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and the first woman to run a Fortune 20 company. During her tenure, Fiorina says, HP expanded its flex-time, job-share, and work-at-home programs. “Goodness, if we can outsource call centers in India, we can help people have virtual offices and flexible work hours.”
For many women working in IT, such policies present twofold benefits. Not only do they ease the burden of striking a work/family balance, but they mitigate the working-hours stigma many have had to face in the past -- the perception that they are not as committed to the success of the company as others are, regardless of whether they get more accomplished than their clock-watching peers.
“Putting in face time was very important at the beginning of my career,” says Linda Ead, director of IT at ITA Software, an airfare pricing company. “You didn’t want to be seen walking out of the office at 4:30, because then you were The Mom.”
Ead’s current position, which she took last year, allows more flexibility. “They encourage telecommuting and flexible hours,” she says. “People work all different hours, 24 hours a day -- just whatever works for both the employee and the company.”
And for companies offering flex-time and telecommuting, the payoffs can be considerable -- both in the near term and down the line.
“[Flexibility] creates a very productive, efficient, stable, and devoted workforce,” says Robin Chase, co-founder of car-share company Zipcar and CEO of Meadow Networks, a consultancy. “Prime caregivers who have such jobs waste little time, value their employer, and will stay with those firms.” And when the demands of their home lives reduce over time, Chase says, “they will be ripe and ready to take on those high-profile jobs with commitment.” And there’s something to be said for having a skilled, experienced employee with intimate knowledge of your company’s inner workings on hand to step in and step up, especially given the fierce competition for talent in today’s IT marketplace.