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Monday, February 21, 2005

Less time, even less money - not always

So often it seems that mothers get the shaft, especially when trying to make a part-time schedule work. As a result, women get a semblance of what they want or deserve. Mostly that comes by way of a smaller paycheck.

We already know that women earned just 77 cents for every dollar men received in 2002, even when we have similar education, skills and experience, according to the AFL-CIO. And when it to part-time work there is the extra disadvantage of "schedule creep," according to an article in the Wall Street Journal called "Making Part-Time Work A Little More Palatable," which was published on Feb. 18. For part-timers, schedule creep typically means that employees actually work more than they are supposed to and get paid less than they should be. "It's a big problem for people on part-time schedules in particular, who often find themselves working 100% time for 75% or 80% pay," wrote Sue Shellenbarger.

And this problem likely affects women and mothers disproportionately because they are more likely than men to be working on a less-then-full-time basis. Some law firms are at the forefront of combating this problem facing part-timers and women, especially because it is affecting attrition, and replacing employees who quit is very expensive. "Dismayed that a half-dozen attorneys who quit the firm one year were all women, McNees Wallace suspected that lack of flexibility may have contributed to the brain drain and vowed to improve its policy," said Helen Gemmill, an attorney with the 105-lawyer firm McNees Wallace in the WSJ article.

Instead of paying part-time attorneys less, (McNees Wallace) pays them more per hour. Part-timers with two or more years with the firm receive three-quarters pay for working two-thirds of normal hours. If working part-time helps keep them with the firm and avoid the cost of replacing them, 'you're still making money for the firm,' says Steve Weingarten, managing attorney. The firm also allows part-timers to progress on the partnership track at the same rate as full-timers. The quit rate among women attorneys has plunged, he says.

So now part-timer attorneys at some firms are at least getting paid for the hours they work, but it wasn't clear if the firms are working to ensure that these part-timers aren't working more hours than they are supposed to. Family-friendly companies, and law firms in particular, were called out as offering some of the best maternity leaves in Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For, when the list was published earlier this year.

Now we can only hope that more firms, across more industries, will follow suit and bring parity for part-time workers.

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