When I decided to leave my job of 25 years and move with my family to San Francisco, my husband told me he was going to talk with the Chair of his Board and resign a job he loved. I suggested an alternative. "Why don't you say, I am staying with the organization, but I'm moving to San Francisco?"
My husband came back the next evening, clearly astonished, announcing that the Chair had okayed the proposal. And I thought: "Things really are changing." That was 2005.
Now they'll change faster. The Custom-Fit Workplace, by Joan Blades and Nanette Fondas, provides managers with the tools they need to match today's workplace to today's workforce--one in which mobility is high, homemakers scarce, and child and elder care commonplace.
While writing Unbending Gender a decade ago, I came to recognize that many managers' instinctive reaction to new ways to work is, "But that's impossible!" This is a key problem to overcome. Blades and Fondas offer practical tips to help managers overcome their fears of the unknown by describing successful examples of off-ramps and on-ramps, telework, part-time and flexible hours, and programs to allow parents to bring babies to work. Aimed chiefly at a business audience, this book signals a new and important step in disseminating ideas for updating employment to fit 21st century realities.
Of course, Joan Blades being Joan Blades, The Custom-Fit Workplace is not just a book. It's also a website: customfitworkplace.org. So far, the site chiefly has comments by women activists. Let's hope it can realize its potential as a national and international resource where employees can turn for help in redesigning their jobs--and where employers can learn how to manage new work arrangements effectively.
Blades and Fondas tell lots of stories about individuals who have redesigned their jobs to better fit their lives, and also provide an updated "business case" documenting how redesigned work helps employers' bottom line. Another boon is the book's carefully nuanced picture of unions' role in helping Americans balance work and family in an era when 45% of union members are women.
The national conversation this book will spark needs to include discussion of what we at WorkLife Law call the "flexibility stigma": fully 40% of working parents told the Families and Work Institute that using workplace flexibility options would jeopardize their careers. WorkLife Law is currently running a Working Group on Flexibility Stigma, composed of lawyers and social scientists. We are just starting to untangle the gender pressures and workplace norms that create flexibility stigma. So read The Custom-Fit Workplace--and stay tuned.
© Joan C. Williams