Going the Extra Mile to Provide Work-Life Balance for Women

By Jim Stratton
Orlando Sentinel

When young lawyers go to work for Mayanne Downs, they’re in for a shock.

Downs, a former Florida Bar president, has established four guidelines for her staff at GrayRobinson in Orlando, Fla.

First, they are free to work the schedule that suits their home life.

Second, they may leave the office whenever necessary for a family commitment.

Third, before taking a case, they must meet with Downs to decide how much responsibility they’re comfortable accepting.

And last, if there’s some errand cluttering their to-do list, think “pick up dry cleaning”, they’re encouraged to ask the office concierge, Downs’ college-age daughter, to handle the job.

“She comes in once a week,” said Downs, Orlando’s city attorney. “Does stuff like goes to Whole Foods to get milk, buys makeup, picks up prescriptions.”

The policies are part of Downs’ attempt to help her staff members, the women in particular, strike a balance between their work and home lives.

The effort reflects a growing sense that, historically, most companies have done little to acknowledge that many women work two full-time jobs: one in the office and one at home.

Downs said it’s an experiment in reality-based management.

“I don’t want expectations to chew on our souls,” she said.

The approach remains relatively rare, according to a 2012 poll from the Society of Human Resource Managers. It found that, although about half of all companies take small life-work-balance steps, such as discouraging employees from working while on vacation, just 10 percent offered formal flex-time programs.

“There’s still an element of rewarding ‘showing up,’ ” said Anne Perschel, an organizational psychologist who has worked with organizations such as CVS and the Girl Scouts of America. “They still want to see you at the desk.”

Charles Tews, president of the Tews Co., a Central Florida staffing company, agrees.

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