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This past week Paul Ryan and Joe Biden both spoke publically about the importance of their family obligations when considering their career decisions. Ryan, considering the position as Speaker of the House, felt it necessary to set boundaries. He stated that he wanted to spend weekends with his family. Joe Biden’s decision not to run for President was based his determination that his family needed him to be present after his son’s death.

These announcements were newsworthy and perhaps represent a new acceptance of the reality of what it’s like to be a working parent. It’s extremely difficult and stressful to balance family and career.

It’s especially difficult for working mothers who still are responsible for the majority of domestic duties, whether or not they work full time. Traditionally, ambitious women have feared they would be penalized for taking a lot of time off because of their family. The current model of success in corporate America still consists of putting in long hours and being available 24/7. The model doesn’t align with family responsibilities and the desire to spend quality time at home.

What are the options for women who are ambitious yet want to have children and be active in their upbringing?

What do women do when they want to step out of the traditional workplace structure but don’t want to take a step back in their careers?

In her new book, Unfinished Business, author Anne-Marie Slaughter recommends that women consider deferring rather than opting out of their careers. She suggests that it is possible for women in stay in the game by strategically planning to lean back as well as leaning in.

What’s involved in leaning back? One option is to consider flexible work.

According to Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of Flexjobs, flexible work is a great way to continue your career path while either reducing your hours or finding a situation that gives you more flexibility to take care of your family and your life. Flexible jobs which include telecommuting options, flexible or alternative schedules, part-time jobs as well as freelance, essentially anything outside of the traditional on-site full time job that is during set hours, are more available today. In fact, according to Fell, people who want to work flexibly for any reason are now able to find jobs that are both professional and in line with their career path. These opportunities do not mean taking a step back, if that’s not what you want.

Another option is job sharing. I spoke with Pat Katepoo, founder of WorkOptions; a company that offers full-time professionals, mainly women, help in negotiating a flexible work arrangement at their current job. Katepoo advises her clients who want to keep their careers on track to consider reducing their hours and job share their current job over changing their job to straight part-time arrangement. “With job sharing, the position remains full-time (with two people filling it), yet the individual gets to work less-than-full-time. That keeps the position visible and less likely than a part-time position to be marginalized, and of course, keeps the employee active in her work/career.”

Once you make the decision that you need to lean back from your work for whatever reason, the toughest part comes next and that is to negotiate with your company to receive approval to modify your current work schedule. Work Options helps their clients by providing flexible work option proposals which serve as templates to assist in the process of asking and securing a new work arrangement.

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