By Sandra Guy, SWE Magazine Contributor
A recent report ranks “engineer” as one of the most common work-from-home job titles, while at the same time, flexible arrangements for on-site employees have increased dramatically.
Engineers can cheer an empowering workforce trend: They rank in the top 10 in the latest work-from-home jobs list and can increasingly earn leadership positions with flexible hours.
The number of people working remotely and/or working flexible schedules has soared 115 percent in the past decade, and the most common programs employers offer are remote work, flexible schedules, and part-time hours, according to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report, sponsored by career website FlexJobs.
The report ranked “engineer” as No. 6 among the most common work-from-home job titles, behind accountant (No. 1), program manager, teacher, writer, and consultant. The top companies sup- porting remote and flexible work include Amazon, Dell, Toyota, and Xerox.
“Especially when it comes to keeping women engaged and active in the workplace, flexible work options can play a key role,” said Brie Reynolds, FlexJobs’ senior career specialist.
Indeed, 35 percent of people interested in flexible work describe themselves as working parents, while 42 percent of working mothers say that, at some point in their working lives, they’ve reduced their hours to care for a child or other family member, compared with 28 percent of working fathers, the FlexJob study found.
“Because women take on the bulk of caregiving responsibilities, either for children or for other family members, flexible work options are crucial to helping them remain in the workforce and advance their careers,” Reynolds said.
That’s certainly the case for Sherry Chai, a software engineer at Gusto, a San Francisco-based company that develops software to run small businesses’ payroll processing, tax calculations, and employee benefits systems. Chai, a 34-year-old mother of a 10-month-old son, says her supervisor and co-workers’ support for her new family schedule “is super important.”
“My manager and my team are very accommodating,” said Chai, who commutes one hour each way to work from her home in Cupertino, California. “They understand I’m trying to figure things out as a mom.” Chai’s priority is to get home by 6 p.m. to have dinner with her husband and son and spend time with the baby before his bedtime.
Chai also has found Gusto’s 16-week paid maternity leave and its unlimited paid time-off policy rewarding. (The company, which employs 530, offers eight weeks of paid paternity leave.) She said she found the maternity leave quite valuable. “I used the time (maternity leave) to connect with my baby — to learn about him and to let him learn about me,” Chai said. “I used the time as a buffer to decide how I would make my work hours manageable.”
On a typical day, Chai goes to work by 7:45 a.m. and leaves by 4:30 p.m. She said flextime is a new priority. Before she had the baby, Chai said she worked 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. without giving it a second thought. “Just knowing that I can work different hours and not have to be concerned about that, and not feeling like I can’t work just because I’m a mom — all those little things are important,” she said.
No Pause Button on Life
Eddie Kim, Gusto’s co-founder and chief tech- nology officer, said the idea is to support work/ life integration. “I’ve always believed that, if you clock in at 9 a.m., that doesn’t mean you hit the pause button on life, and then, at 5 p.m., suddenly the play button on life begins,” Kim said. “I don’t dictate when someone comes in or leaves work. I’m not tracking if they arrive late or early. There is no such definition.”
Kim said he’s proud that 12 percent of the workforce comprises parents, and he believes his company’s policies reflect the modern workforce and new generations of workers. “We’ve built a culture of trust so no one will take advantage of it to the detriment of others,” he said. “We also believe fundamentally that having a diverse team makes us build better products.”
Kim said he sees the #MeToo movement and other social media and other such activism as making this “a tipping point” in empowering workers. “People are using technology to amplify each other’s voices, including people outside of just their friends and family,” he said. The company also uses technology such as an internal app and videoconferencing to communicate in ways that let workers get their jobs done from home when it’s necessary.
The ability to work from home a few days a week is essential to Yasmary Diaz, a principal cloud architect at Ultimate Software, a Florida-based human resources software developer. The company provides fully paid (100 percent employer paid) health care premiums for employees and their families, including married same-sex couples, and coverage of in vitro fertilization treatments. The firm also offers unlimited paid time off for full- time salaried employees; 15 days paid time off for full-time hourly workers; and four weeks of paid paternity leave and 10 weeks of paid maternity and adoption leave.
Diaz, who started playing with the disk operating system at age 9 on a 1993 Acer® computer running Windows® 3.1, says “it’s amazing to be able to hold my son during lunch and during any sort of break, and to see his face and be able to be a part of his mile- stones as he grows.”
Diaz, 33, mom to a 10-month-old son, said she is ecstatic that he just started crawling. She also appreciates that, when she works at the office, there’s a room where she can pump breast milk.
She just won a promotion and advises the software development team on the latest technology trends and patterns. Diaz recommends that women ask for the flexibility they need. “If you don’t ask, you’ll never know,” she said. Diaz knows her position. “I love being a mom and I love my work,” she said.
The need for giving that option to women worldwide was behind Sandra Arevalo’s founding of Wisar, an online platform that links vetted professionals with companies seeking their skills. Arevalo, 38, a mechanical engineer with a master’s degree in production engineering and an MBA, says she felt forced to choose between work and family when her daughter was born three years ago.
“I was the only girl in the room in most of what I did — studying and working — for the first 15 years of my career,” she said. “My whole life, I have been in this minority gender position. That’s why I love to collaborate to promote women’s participation everywhere.”
The goal is to let women dictate their terms, especially when or if they want to return to work full time after taking maternity leave.
The company, which is partnering with FlexJobs, processes more than 500 job opportunities every day and uses its algorithm to quickly match qualified people with the jobs that best suit their skills. The service is free to job seekers. “Thanks to technology and global interconnectivity, women and men can work in any field that doesn’t need a physical presence,” Arevalo said. “We want to ensure equal opportunity.”
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