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April 23, 2009

Demanding Perks—Even in a Recession?

lisa finkelstein

Lisa Finkelstein: Retro
Jewelry design director, J.Crew

HER SPLURGE: J.Crew party dress.
HER TRICKS: Invest in a simple A-line dress — a clean canvas for your unique look. Snap up lots of fun, affordable baubles, like enamel pins, to pile upon neutral basics. Shop for steals in new color combos. Play up your femininity at work — you can look just as confident in ribbons as in pinstripes. Enhance casual-Friday jeans with budget-friendly accessories, like a vibrant blouse, crystal belt, and big jewels. Emulate the late socialite Nan Kempner, who wore the same fabulous clothes over and over again in different ways. Transform a dress from party-frilly to polished with a shrunken jacket in a cool fabric. Keep everything — the more to mix and match with!

Jacket, $298, dress, $225, cardigan, $110, brooch, $50, necklace, $150, bracelets, $25 to $85, J.Crew; jcrew.com. Shoes, $795, Valentino; neimanmarcus.com for stores.

Photo Credit: Perry Hagopian

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We were skeptical reading Womenomics, a new how-to guide for securing a more flexible work schedule. Aren't we supposed to be putting in more hours these days? We asked authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, veteran TV journalists, to make their case.

MC: Womenomics controversially suggests that, in effect, women can't have it all. But if they compromise—quit aiming for that corner office and spend more time with the kids—they'll get something close enough.
Katty Kay:
We're not discounting professional success. But balancing careers with having a life means there will be times when we turn down a promotion or a job offer because it means too many hours away from our families. In 10 years' time, maybe we'll go after that promotion. But you've got to see your career as a wave that goes up and down, rather than as a straight ladder.

MC: Explain how it works—you just ask the boss for a more flexible schedule?
Claire Shipman:
You can't storm in when you're 22 and say, "I'll work from home three days a week." You have to do some career-building and amass goodwill. If your company really values your work, you'll have more leverage to get what you want.

MC: But you're both TV personalities. How realistic is this for the gal who isn't famous?
We are established TV people—but in our business, much of your power can literally be determined by how often you're on air. What I've done—significantly cutting back on my airtime—is fairly unusual and risky. It makes me less of a player and has cut my pay, as well. I'm in the middle of a great experiment: Is it possible to maintain a "medium" profile?

MC: Is this even a good time to be asking for flexible hours?
Every company we spoke to that uses it—Pepsi, Wal-Mart, Marriott—said it's a critical tool, especially now. It's good for morale and enhances productivity.
KK: We all know women are different from men—we're more risk averse and careful. Companies are looking for [these traits] to get us out of this crisis. They call it the economy's pink lining, and it gives us a lot of power.

MC: You say most meetings are a waste of time and that you should skip them whenever possible. Doesn't that just mean someone else has to pick up the slack?
Some of it depends on the autonomy you have and whether you've got people working for you. If you're at that level, those people are supposed to help you.
KK: The trick is knowing which meetings are worth going to. And make them more productive. Make sure people don't spend 10 minutes chatting before you start or go off on tangents about their pet projects.

MC: What about your husbands—do they have flexible working hours?
My husband is Joe Biden's communications director. He's working killer hours. But having him around wouldn't make up for me wanting to be around. I like spending time with my kids.
KK: You have to get over judging other people's use of their time. It's about, What do I want out of my life, for me? Your spouse may have a different view of what he wants.

MC: I'd probably resent a colleague who didn't have to come in to work every day.
CS: Work isn't a popularity contest. At the end of the day, being a good, smart employee is going to be much more valuable than everybody liking you.
KK: We have a whole chapter on guilt, which women in particular suffer from. It's a completely useless emotion. If you've done something really wrong, fix it. If you haven't, get over it.

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