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women at work

"Do you think you'll return to work after having your baby?"

That's a question I heard many times before having my son more than eight years ago. I started hearing it again before the birth of my daughter last year. If there is one misperception I would love to quash, it's the notion that women feel less committed to their careers once they have children.

Why this idea that ambition evaporates as soon as the epidural wears off? I presume some of this misperception stems from the additional time constraints placed on working parents. While many women seek a balance between their work and personal lives, increasingly, so do men.

A growing number of employers are instituting flexible working requests, observed Julia Richardson, an associate professor of organizational behaviour at York University's School of Human Resource Management.

Flexible working arrangements not only benefit mothers (and fathers), but also those who are caring for elderly parents, pursuing further education or training, or merely seeking to avoid a long commute. So why pick on mothers?

It has been 23 years since the term "mommy track" was coined, and I think it's ripe for redefinition. Forget the need to choose career or family. Instead, let's redefine the term to refer to the drive many women possess to ensure they are successful to provide for their children, while setting a strong example.

For those opting for flexible working hours, it need not spell career suicide. An employee who carefully manages his or her career visibility while offsite can thrive in a flexible work arrangement, Dr. Richardson said.

Margaret Galvin, director of recruiting for Accenture in Canada demonstrates that it is possible to get ahead while working flexible hours.

A self-proclaimed workaholic, Ms. Galvin held a variety of roles since she began working at Accenture in 2002. After the birth of her son, she decided against maintaining the same pace and requested a compressed workweek in 2006. Since then, she has been promoted twice.

"I wanted to keep working but I wanted to be a good mom," explained Ms. Galvin, who maintains a flexible working schedule now that she has two children.

As a human resources professional, she sees the trend of flexible work arrangements rising, along with a growing level of acceptability among employers. As for productivity, she is adamant that the number of hours one spends at work does not correlate with one's output.

"Whether you are sitting at your desk five days a week or sitting at your desk four days a week, it doesn't make a difference so long as you're producing good work," Ms. Galvin said. "The amount of hours you put in is not a measure of your success."

Kerry Robbins, associate vice-president for personal credit sales and real estate secured lending at TD Canada Trust provides another example. In her previous role as a district vice-president, Ms. Robbins' work schedule fluctuated between three-and-a-half and four days a week for three years. The bank reduced the size and number of branches under her jurisdiction to accommodate her flexible work options.

One of Ms. Robbins' mentors suggested the role to her while she was on maternity leave. She accepted the offer not only for the flexible schedule, but also because it provided her exposure to a different part of the business, which proved good for her career.

"Yes, I worked part-time, but it was the role that I wanted to do in order to support where I wanted to go next," Ms. Robbins said. Although her current position was a lateral move, she believes the role's scope and depth will further her success in the long run.

John Crossley, a human resources manager at Toronto-Dominion Bank, reinforces the idea that flexible work arrangements benefit both fathers and mothers. A 23-year veteran of the bank, Mr. Crossley has enjoyed a flexible work arrangement in his past few positions. In his previous role, he worked four days a week from home and still managed to move to a more senior position.

With a newborn and a three-year-old child, Mr. Crossley continues to work flexible hours, arriving early at the office to leave in time to make it home for dinner. To ease his commute from Tottenham, about 70 kilometres northwest of Toronto, he also works from home two days a week.

Asked whether he thinks men who seek a flexible work arrangement feel an extra sting, Mr. Crossley cited several cases of very senior men in his organization who arrive at work a bit late after dropping of their kids at school.

"I think it's definitely more accepted nowadays than maybe it was 10 years ago," he added.

Leah Eichler is co-founder of Femmeonomics, a networking and content portal for professional women. E-mail: Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Femmeonomics