Flexible Hours Shouldn’t Be A Salary Tradeoff, Or A Woman’s Burden

Some people think I’m entitled, maybe even naive or childish, when it comes to my views on the workplace.

Let me elaborate.

  • I set my own hours. Usually, working 5 or 6 (highly productive) hours in a day.
  • I work remotely, from my apartment in NYC or from an Airbnb in Europe.
  • I go to yoga in the middle of the day.
  • My requests for time off are never turned down.

I don’t want to work any other way

I don’t think I should have to. I don’t think my ways of working make me less of a badass business woman. And, even with all of those benefits, even though I am an employee and not a founder, I think I should be paid at market rate.

I know that I am extraordinarily fortunate… but I don’t think my lifestyle should be a rare privilege. I don’t think flexibility should come at the expense of salary.

Does that make me entitled? Or am I a forward-thinker?

Entitled =/= Spoiled

I get angry  —  really angry  —  when discussions of flexible hours and fair pay are dismissed as entitlement. In the modern vernacular, entitlement is a dirty word, implying the absence of hard work and the expectation of a “handout.”

At my primary work space (which conveniently doubles as my living room), making the face I do when my perspective is dismisse
At my primary work space (which conveniently doubles as my living room), making the face I do when my perspective is dismissed as entitlement. Come at me, bro.

I disagree with the notion that if I’m not working hard, I’m doing something wrong. Why is “hard” the most valued adjective in career? I work effectively and I do my job well. The difficulty and stress of what I do are not points of pride for me. I’m frustrated by society’s expectation that they should be.

And I do feel entitled  —  the actual definition of entitled, not the political disambiguation. I feel entitled to a salary that reflects my level of experience and is in line with market valuation for my skill set, a salary that is not based on the specific hours or place I work.

I feel entitled to designing a life that works for me. I feel entitled to my own core values, even though (especially since?) they differ from societal expectations.

I feel entitled, but I am not spoiled. I deviate from society’s norms, but I am not naive.

The economic explanation makes sense, but isn’t good enough

Flexible hours are something I place a very high value on. Forced to choose,I will take a job that gives me control over my time over a job that pays me a higher salary. Others value flexible hours as I do (and on a macro level women tend to value the benefit more often), so the market responds accordingly. From a purely economic perspective, increased salary and prestige are considered tradeoffs in the pursuit of flexibility.

I’ve made those tradeoffs. To join Tortuga, I turned down a CMO position (fancy title with no flexibility), an office job running the marketing for a nonprofit I love (the passion was there, but I didn’t want to live in North Carolina anymore), and the opportunity to continue working with my mentor of five years at the company I helped her build (see previous parenthesis). In every case, my decision had nothing to do with money. I wanted to be free more than I wanted a c-level title or a raise.

And yet… the fact that I value flexibility shouldn’t be an excuse to pay me less. I would trade salary, but I don’t think I should have to.

The spoiler alert in this story: Tortuga believes in fair pay and my salary is absolutely competitive. So, I didn’t have to choose, in the end.

I didn’t have to choose… but others do.

What the hell does this have to do with feminism?

In short, work on your terms has the potential to lessen the wage gap. A caveat on income inequality to start us off:

It’s hard to find the smoking guns, OK? The smoking guns existed in the past. I have found many a smoking gun where you find actual evidence of firms saying, for example, “I do not hire Negroes.” Or, “I do not hire women.” I mean, you actually find these in 1939. We don’t find those smoking guns now, but what we do try to do is hold everything constant that we can hold, get the best data that we can get.

That’s a quote from Claudia Goldin, a tenured Harvard professor and former president of the American Economic Association, on a recent Freakonomics episode called “The True Story of the Gender Pay Gap.”

Wage discrimination is hard to prove. Income inequality is complicated.But… I’m still going to talk about it, because even though it’s hard to prove,it matters.

Claudia Goldin and Anne-Marie Slaughter, a public-policy scholar, argue that choosing flexible hours in part as a result of a woman’s caregiver burden is a compelling explanation for the wage gap between men and women.

Here’s a quote from Anne-Marie Slaughter, “The True Story of the Gender Pay Gap”:

If you take women who don’t have caregiving obligations, they’re almost equal with men. It’s somewhere in the 95 percent range. But when women then have children, or again are caring for their own parents or other sick family members who need care, then they need to work differently. They need to work flexibly, and often go part-time. They often get less-good assignments because their bosses think that they’re not going to want work that allows them to travel, or they’re not going to be able to stay up all night, or whatever it is. And so then you start — if you’re working part-time, you don’t get the same raises. And if you’re working flexibly your boss very typically thinks that you’re not that committed to your career, so you don’t get promoted.

That last sentence. Let’s start there. I work flexible hours. I am very dedicated to my career. Those two ideas are not incongruous, nor should they be.

And, it shouldn’t matter why I work those flexible hours. Perhaps I want to go to a two-hour yoga class at 10 am on a weekday (which I often do) or maybe I need to take my (non-existent) kid to school. Work fits into my lifestyle. Not the other way around.

On Your Terms work is not just about my 10 a.m. yoga class. For Lauren, it enables her to focus on career and make it a top priority, even on the days when she can’t get out of bed because of a chronic illness. While Jenn is able to schedule her hours around the schedules of her teenagers. As Jenn says, “Kids can interfere with work. Work can interfere with kids. Work and kids can hold hands and skip around the park some days.”

Fuck work life balance. It’s work life integration. Integrating your work into your life, not the other way around, whether you have kids or not.

Remote companies matter. Flexible hours matter.

When we, as companies, leaders, and founders, build companies that allow work on your terms, it opens the door for those whose priorities or life stages, or situations, mean they need to work differently. The barriers are removed. Caregivers (who are still primarily women — but that’s another conversation) are invited to flourish in career without giving up needed flexibility. Remote work isn’t just the future. It levels the playing field.

A final caveat: of course flexible hours are not solely valuable to women, and not solely valuable to caregivers. There are childless women (like me), and fathers, and childless men (like our co-founders) who value working on their terms more than they value high salaries and choose careers accordingly. Per Goldin and Slaughter’s research, however, it is demonstrated that it is a women’s issue on the macro level.

On your terms isn’t just about women. But it’s certainly a welcome development in equality.

Further Reading (and listening):

What Are Gender Barriers Made Of? (Freakonomics Podcast)

Unfinished Business (Anne-Marie Slaughter)

This post originally appeared on On Your Terms, a publication by Tortuga.

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