At the Top 10 Best Companies, flex is more than just a policy in the HR manual. It’s an essential part of everyday life for working moms—and dads, too.
My Mom, My Kids
Carrie Shane, 46
Divisional VP in Human Resources
Mom of Hannah, 16, and Allison, 11
When I was interviewing with Abbott 10 years ago, one of my main concerns was about flexibility. Flex hadn’t been part of the culture at my previous jobs. And I had two small kids—I didn’t want something as basic as scheduling a doctor’s appointment to be a challenge. Also, my mom had been recently widowed, and I wanted to help care for her if she needed me.
Abbott’s culture is built on the trust that you’ll do your job. Flexing your schedule or working at a distance are natural parts of the picture. Work isn’t where you go, it’s what you do. So when my mother fell and needed knee replacement surgery, I didn’t hesitate to tell my manager I wanted to work remotely and flex my day around my mom’s needs. Another time, when one of my daughters called me crying from school after getting bullied, I simply let my team know I was taking off to spend the afternoon with her. These were both one-time things—but life is full of such things. Basements flood, trees fall on roofs, kids get sick—and they don’t usually do it at our convenience.
Janet Foutty, 47
Mom of Nora and Benjamin, both 16
My job can be intense. I’ve worked a lot of late nights, done a lot of traveling. But when I had my twins, I asked for local engagements, and in their first year, I compressed my workweek and telecommuted. The next year we had a project that was very challenging, requiring long hours. I let everyone know I’d work late some nights, but two or three times a week, I had to be home by 6 for dinner with my kids and husband. All of us having dinner together felt absolutely right, like we were creating a real sense of family.
And, surprisingly, the family dinners have continued, even though my kids are teens now and we’re all very busy. One night not long ago, I was traveling home from a meeting in DC. it had been a long couple of days and my flight was delayed—I didn’t get home till 9:30. But my husband had put on a pot of water for pasta and roasted some asparagus, and the four of us sat down at the kitchen island together. Nothing’s more energizing for me than getting to spend time with my family.
Malcomb Coley, 48
Senior assurance services partner and office managing partner
Dad of Adia, 18, Tanna, 16, and DJ, 15
I’ve always had flexibility at EY. It’s part of how we plan our engagements— not just a bullet point on the agenda but a major element in the discussion. we talk about it up front—what flexibility means to us, when we need it. In a recent engagement, one member of my team needed to leave early Wednesday for religious services—it went into the plan. Another time, a single dad needed to get his son to day care and doctors’ visits—that became part of the plan, too. And I needed to go to some of my kids’ many events. My wife and I have a rule: one of us at every event, and both of us at the major ones.
But sometimes things happen that aren’t part of the plan—like when my daughter found out at the last minute that she’d be first-chair cello at her concert, for the first time. A major event—I couldn’t miss it. But my team had a huge meeting. The client agreed to move the meeting to Saturday, and all my team members signed on. It’s exciting when flexibility becomes that deep a part of the culture—where we all help each other so we can meet our personal and professional goals.
The Long View
Heather Larson, 47
VP, Innovation, Technology and Quality
Mom of Britta, 19, Alissa, 16, Peder, 14, and Marit, 10
I was a road warrior when I was younger, and my husband was, too. We wanted great careers. We also wanted a family. We didn’t want to be riding around in a golf cart when we were 90 with only our jobs to reminisce about.
But once we had kids, striking the right balance wasn’t always easy. One time, when I was expecting our third child, we were both traveling for important meetings. I’d taken a shuttle down to Cedar Rapids and my flight home was delayed—but my girls had to be picked up from day care. I had a great support network, and within half an hour, I’d found someone to go get them. but during those 30 minutes I was frantic, imagining my girls waiting for me. We decided something had to change. I loved my work, but I was cutting things too close with my family. I asked for an extended leave and got it. I worried about how that would affect my career, but my mentor said, “A career is long, Heather. People won’t even remember you were away.” That’s proved absolutely true. Today, I have a great career—and a great family, too.
Sherry Lautenbach, 42
VP, Sales and Distribution Boca Raton, FL
Mom of Ned, 11, Nicholas, 10, and Grayson, 7
Some of my friends felt that once they had kids, they had to make a tough decision: Should they give up their jobs or try to balance work and family? I never felt that way. My career has evolved because I’ve been able to tap into flex options to take care of my family and myself. Knowing without a doubt that I had that kind of flexibility—it’s been very motivating.
A few years ago my son Nicholas (pictured) had a bad accident. He ended up with a fractured skull and a hematoma. I called my boss, let him know I’d be out of touch—and then dropped everything. My team stepped up and did what needed to be done for a week and a half. But Nick had to stay out of school for six weeks, which meant I couldn’t travel for six weeks—and in my field, sales, we do a lot of traveling. There was never any question whether this would be okay. My manager was behind me, and my team rallied round, almost like a family. I worked when I could—but it was incredibly comforting to know that everyone understood my main job right then was taking care of my son.
Susan Eickhoff, 41
Mom of Megan, 13, and Hannah, 6
I first asked for a reduced work schedule in 2006—when I was about to be put up for partner. I was a nervous wreck, worried it might affect my promotion: You don’t hear many male partners saying, “Hey, I want to work less.” But I needed more time with my family. So I went to the managing partner and asked for it, but added that I wouldn’t do it if it would affect his decision to put me up for partner. And he was fine with it. He thought it’d be good for other people in the firm to see it as an option. He even helped me work out a job-share with another partner, a mom who’d recently lost her husband.
That arrangement has let me build my career while raising two daughters as a single mom. I also take care of my grandmother, who has dementia. She raised me, so I didn’t hesitate to take her in after my grandfather died. When she needed more care, I moved her to a home five miles from my office, and whenever she’s having a bad day, I can drop in for a visit. I mentor a lot of women, some of them senior managers starting families. It makes them feel comfortable to know that people in top jobs have the same struggles they do, that we’re human and have demands besides our careers—and that we make it work.
Taking the Off-ramp
Fama Francisco, 45
Procter & Gamble
VP, North American Baby Care Cincinnati
Mom of Miguel, 19, Mark, 17, Marga, 14, and Max, 10
I was P&G’s first female sales manager in the Philippines in more than 50 years, and I’ve worked all over the world, moving to the United States 10 years ago. My career was going great. But I wanted to spend more time with my kids while they were young. So in 2006, I took a leave of absence. It was a little scary. I’d read about career on-ramps and off-ramps and how only 40 percent of women manage to come back and be successful. But I knew that what I wanted was to create a lasting legacy with this company and raise a happy, healthy family. I wouldn’t be happy with half the equation.
While I was on leave, a new president came on board, and one day he called me. I hadn’t even met him, but I found the courage to tell him that when I came back, I wanted to be a general manager and work less than full-time. He was incredibly supportive. Two years after I came back I was promoted to general manager, and in 2011 to vice president. I’ve used flex in one form or another the whole time. I compress my schedule now, so I have Friday afternoons off.
Marshall Alston, 43
VP, Human Resources
Dad of Justin, 21, Travis, 19, Devynn, 10, and Dylon, 7
You need a supportive boss to make flex work—and a solid track record, so people know you’ll handle the work part of work life balance. Then you can fuse work and life in a way that benefits both—one where your family feels free to say, “You gotta be there,” when they want you to be.
One night last June, my son Dylon asked if I was taking Friday off to come to his kindergarten graduation. I’d forgotten about it and scheduled an important meeting at our Newark office, 50 miles away. I called the guy I was meeting with, told him I could do an hour in person and the rest on the phone on the drive home—and told him why. He got it—he’s a father of four. I made it to Dylon’s school in time to see him introduce the class song, “Snow Pants,” and to hear him say “Nice job” to a nervous classmate who introduced the next one. Whenever I’ve taken time to be there for my children—whether it’s moments like that, or getting to my daughter’s concert to hear her play “Old McDonald” on her recorder, or just meeting my kids at the bus—people have always said I made the right call. And it’s true.
The Lunch Mom
Colleen Harrison, 43
Mom of Will, 10, and Jack, 8
I worked a reduced schedule after I had my sons and went back to full-time once they were in school. I thought it’d be easier to manage it all, but trying to keep up with them and their activities was tough. often, I felt like I was missing out. When would I get a chance to enjoy my kids? I decided it had to be now, while they still got a kick out of being with me (i knew that wouldn’t last forever). So in July, I went back to a reduced schedule.
My sons had been begging me to be a hot-lunch mom, so I signed up. Our school doesn’t have a cafeteria, but once a month they cater a hot lunch, and parents serve it in the gym. I could hardly ever do that before, but now I volunteer fairly regularly. My boys get so excited. They tell their friends, “My mom’s working lunch today!” and come into the gym with these huge smiles. It’s a small thing, but it means so much to them. I’ve got a lot of work years ahead of me—but not a lot of years with my boys.
2 Moms, 5 Boys, 1 Job
Samantha McInturff, 41
WellStar Health System
Marietta, GA Mom of Hayden and Luke, both 4
Amy Adams, 37
WellStar Health System
Mom of Jackson, 9, Cooper, 6, and Landen, 2
Samantha (right): Amy and I worked together for years. Then, after having my twins, I took a leave. But we still got together for lunch.
Amy: One day, over fish tacos at Willie Rae’s, we were talking about motherhood and our careers. I was pregnant with my third son, feeling a bit overwhelmed, wondering how I could be the mom I wanted to be and the employee I wanted to be.
Samantha: And I was missing work, after two years at home.
Amy: So I popped the question: “Why don’t we job-share?” We didn’t know much about it. So on a business trip—seven months pregnant, shoehorned into a tiny airplane seat—I did some research. And we started making our plan.
Samantha: I’d cover for Amy while she was on maternity leave. After that, I’d work two days and she’d work three. And we’d work together one day every other week, so we could strategize and collaborate.
Amy: My manager okayed it, and we started job-sharing last year in January. It’s worked out great!
Samantha: It gives me balance, as a professional and mom.
Amy: I love my job, and I love spending time with my boys. After a day with them, I come in ready to tackle whatever comes up.