Heidi Locke Simon, a partner in Bain’s San Francisco office has taken advantage of a full range of flexible options, including an overseas transfer, a leave of absence and two part-time arrangements. She currently balances her full-time schedule to accommodate the needs of both her family and clients.
Benefits of this Flexible Arrangement to the Company
Bain & Company’s approach to work/life balance has helped attract and retain top talent like Heidi, and maintain a diverse workforce. The firm boasts of being one of the first consulting firms to start offering part-time options for greater balance. The program was designed almost 20 years ago to allow consultants who have been with Bain for more than one year the option to work part-time — spending 50 percent of their time doing client casework and 10 percent of their time doing personal and professional development. The program began as an effort to retain women who were leaving the firm to raise families and foster a greater work-life balance.
Heidi, who has been with Bain for more than 14 years, feels strongly that the company’s flexibility and support for her interests outside of work has helped keep her motivated and able to sustain a rewarding career in a demanding industry. By maintaining a rich life outside of work, she feels she brings a lot more to the firm in helping her clients achieve results.
Motivation for Flex Career
Heidi’s motivations for flexing her schedule have changed over time. Her situation is an excellent example of how a custom career path may vary over time to balance changing business and personal needs.
Heidi first explored her options for flexing her schedule after the birth of her first child. She and her husband were both managing demanding careers and juggling travel schedules when their daughter was born. Luckily Heidi’s husband worked from home when he was in town, and could be very involved. But to best manage the early months, Heidi chose to take a leave of absence for 4 months and returned from that leave to a part-time arrangement for the following 4 months. She was promoted to partner in the year of her return and transitioned back to a full-time schedule for several years while her daughter was young.
When her daughter turned four, Heidi requested another part-time arrangement to have more time at home. Heidi had also wanted to carve out more time to work with a local non-profit organization. After a year on this part-time arrangement Heidi realized that her ambitions were such that she was going to invest a significant amount of time in having an impact in the world, whether she was working full-time or not. And that her daughter wasn’t suffering from having such an involved mom. Heidi also realized while working part-time, that at her level of experience, and employing new skills in prioritization and time management, she was able to carry a full-time load with her clients on a schedule that would work for her personally. So Heidi decided to return to her position at Bain full-time, but this time with a commitment to flexing her full-time schedule, to optimize time for work, family and community service. She’s been thriving on this model ever since.
How it Works
Heidi is a full-time partner in Bain’s San Francisco office, but she takes advantage of her experience to shift and flex her full-time schedule to make the best use of her time. She serves on and advises the boards of several non profits and drops off or picks up her daughter from school several times a week. She is clear that this time does not come at a cost to her clients. She is still a high performing partner at Bain, delivering as much value to clients and the firm as other partners.
In an average week, Heidi spends 2 to 3 days with clients, some of this via phone, 1 to 2 days a week in the office and on average one day working from home. She optimizes her time with clients by scheduling multiple meetings with one office on a single day to reduce travel time. And she takes full advantage of technology, holding teleconferences with clients on a regular basis, and frequently working from home in the morning and evening. She often shifts her schedule to take early morning calls with Asian, European or East Coast based clients, allowing her to spend time in the morning with her daughter before school and then resume her day. Alternatively, she picks up her daughter after school and then finishes up her work day from home in the evening.
In addition to her role as a partner in Bain’s San Francisco office, Heidi also manages client development for the West Coast offices. As a mentor and role model for women at Bain, Heidi leads the women’s program in Bain’s Bay Area offices. She also plays major roles in both recruiting and global training programs.
Bain & Company has had formal policies in place to support flexible work arrangements for almost 20 years. Just as notably, Bain’s formal policies are underscored by a culture that makes utilizing flexibility an accepted part of a career path at the firm. Approximately 30% of Bain staff have opted to go part-time at some point in their careers to help manage the balance between their business and family life, and most of the firm’s women managers and partners have chosen this option. These short- or long-term opportunities provide flexibility for individuals to pursue their interests outside of work, whether it is spending time with family, volunteering with community organizations, or pursuing life-long dreams. Most importantly, these options offer balance without jeopardizing a career, as advancement is based entirely on merit.
Advice for Others Interested in Proposing a Reduced Schedule
Heidi has several valuable suggestions for anyone interested in pursuing a reduced schedule. The first is to work with your management on an objective measure for valuing your results and contributions, rather than putting the emphasis on the number of hours in your schedule. Heidi also suggests that you invest in learning time management and prioritization skills. These skills were invaluable to Heidi while she was on a part-time schedule and have continued to provide returns allowing her to optimize her full-time schedule. She also suggests that part of learning to prioritize is to learn to set boundaries. For Heidi, she’s had to learn when to harness her passion for pro bono work. By setting clear priorities, she knows where this work fits in to her overall goals and it’s easier to ration her time.
Heidi also suggests that it’s very important to know yourself and explore your goals as you consider restructuring your career. She suggests that you explore what success means to you personally, and what you are really trying to achieve over the course of a career and a lifetime. Of course ideally, you want to gain as much clarity in these areas as you can before you make a proposal for career customization. But you may find, as Heidi did, that you will learn more about yourself and where your career fits in your goals as you try working flexibly. “In the end,” Heidi suggests, “if flexibility is important, just be positive and try something. Your first attempt doesn’t have to be a permanent change. Test out a new schedule for six months and then reevaluate with your boss and adjust as necessary.”
Amy Nassisi is Founder of Flexibility Alliance . She is also the Former Sr. Director of Business Development for Siebel Systems, a 15 Year Community Volunteer, Advocate and Leader.