June 2, 2009 -- On one recent Wednesday afternoon, a working mother named Heidi Rudolph Mitchell had a meal with her twin 10-year-olds during normal work hours. But Mitchell didn't have to sneak out of the office to have the quality time with her children because her employer, Sara Lee, allows her flextime.
It gives her the ability to work from home, or -- on the day in question -- from a restaurant if she so chooses. And for Mitchell, that schedule helps provide the work-life balance so many women seek.
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"I've never missed a school concert. For me, it's just fine to do something at 10 at night. It works for me," Mitchell said. "I think it just becomes a nontraditional day. Eight-to-five is out."
But not all working women enjoy the benefits Mitchell has. A new mother, who asked that her identity be concealed for fear of workplace retribution, said she would love to work from home but her employer won't allow it.
The woman said she wants the schedule, in part, to spend time with her newborn daughter and spare her a two-hour daily commute.
"I hate getting home late and only having a few hours to spend with her before she goes to bed. It's something that's always on my mind," the marketing expert said.
What Is Womenomics?
The woman and Mitchell are just two examples of women in the workplace on the brink of a revolution.
And it comes 30 years after a legendary ad sold working women on the idea they could have it all -- as long as they worked their way up the ladder like men.
Womenomics is the notion that women can have great power in the workplace, and that their desire to work differently is finally bringing down the old order and creating huge new opportunities based on newer, more flexible rules.
Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes made headlines, many of which were negative, when, as a superstar at PepsiCo 12 years ago, she walked away from a top job to be home with her three children.
"I don't regret it for a minute. I would do it a million times over," she said.
Now, Barnes runs a hugely successful Fortune 500 company that's awash in alternative schedules, telecommuting, and thrilled employees like Mitchell.
Womenomics, Flextime and Productivity
"In the end, the companies that succeed will have the best talent. And where does the best talent want to go? Where you have control over your life, you can manage your own time," Barnes said. "I think people get more productive, not less, if you give freedom."
Barnes said the recession is the best time for companies to embrace freedom.
"I don't think you can afford not to do it, actually, to be more flexible," she said. "This is all about driving business results."
Some studies have found that flexibility increases productivity, and companies like Walmart, Capitol One and Mariott are embracing it.
But while 89 percent of employees said in a recent Monster survey that flextime is key when they evaluate a new job, only about half of human resources professionals polled said they consider such programs important.
That was part of the reason the unidentified woman's employer refused to let her work from home occasionally, she said.
For now, women like her still live in the shadows and harbor growing frustration because they know a different reality exists. And they want it.
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