Many mothers straddle the line between working full-time and staying home with their kids. Working part-time can be a great way for women to stay connected to both their careers and families. But moms who have staked out this middle ground attest to the tradeoffs required to do it successfully.
Think you could find your comfort zone in a part-time job? Moms who've done it and advocates for women help you sort out the benefits and drawbacks of this potentially appealing option.
Be Ready for a Pay Cut
Women who switch from full-time to part-time earn less -- in ways that go beyond salary, according to Linda Meric, director of working women advocacy group 9 to 5.
For example, when lawyer Julie went from working five days a week to three, she lost her benefits, worth 24 percent of her pay. And Gretchen, an arts educator, switched jobs when she had a baby. The new position pays significantly less than her former job and lacks benefits. When Gretchen's maternity leave ends, day care expenses will exceed her earnings.
Julie and Gretchen agree: Along with reduced earning power, they must accept a different career outlook. Julie notices her law school friends are steadily gaining pay and prestige, while she "treads water" at her part-time job. Gretchen's goal is to keep her career "afloat and alive" while she works part-time.
Earn More Family Time
Despite the sacrifices, Julie and Gretchen have no regrets about working part-time. They both are comfortable with their decision to trade pay and promotions for more time at home.
Gretchen wanted to avoid "having to do?the massive and difficult juggling act that one has to do with a full-time job and a family." And Julie couldn't see herself as both a mom and a full-time lawyer. "The supermom is kind of a myth," she says. "Part-time can be the best decision for your quality of life."
Part-time work also has long-term career benefits not afforded women who leave the workforce completely. Taking one year off results in about one-third less pay over the course of a 15-year career, Meric points out. And Jill Miller, CEO and president of advocacy group Women Work!, says trying to return to work after time away is enormously difficult, because employers first look for recent paid employment.
Make the Transition to Part-Time
Follow these tips to thrive in a part-time job:
- Seek Support: Julie enlists relatives to watch her kids when clients demand extended hours.
- Assess Your Needs: Gretchen says it's important to focus on what's right for you and your family, regardless of what others say or do.
- Shop for Benefits Early: Before you have children, Miller advises women to position themselves in companies with progressive benefits.
- Stay Connected: Join industry and professional associations to keep up with trends, recommends Roslyn Ridgeway, president of Business and Professional Women (BPW), which offers women mentoring and scholarships. BPW, 9 to 5 and Women Work! also have information on rights, legislation and best practices to help women make the most of their careers while working part-time.