When Pay Matters, Think BIG: Why women seeking family-friendly work shouldn’t undervalue where they can get their financial needs met.

by Elizabeth Wilcox

I’m as guilty as the rest. When I talk about family-friendly work, I often launch into discussion about arrangements – flexible hours, telecommuting, part-time work, even launching your business. But in today’s world, where part-time and running your own business come at too great a financial cost for many women, where flexible hour schedules – which arguably do not carry the pay penalty – are more accessible to well paid men, and where telecommuting is not viable in many types of jobs, pay is the litmus test of family-friendly work. And new research again supports a principle that I put forward months ago: when it comes to pay, think big.

Yes, you might be someone who does not need to bring home her full earning capacity, for whom the fact that women earned, on average, 78 cents for every man’s dollar in 2002 is a mute point. Bartering pay and career advancement for a family-friendly arrangement might be a trade off you can make. But you also could be among the almost 1 in 4 single women who support a family and live in poverty. You could be among those for whom both parents need to earn every cent they can. You could be unwilling or unable to make the financial tradeoff that today’s workplace requires of you to accommodate family demands.

If you fall into this category, you should be thinking about a big employer. According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s (BLS) National Compensation Survey, the incidence of low pay is highest at small establishments and falls as establishment size rises. The BLS’s Monthly Labor Report derived from “Exploring low-wage labor with the National Compensation Survey,” by Jared Bernstein and Maury Gittleman reads:

The difference between the smallest and the largest establishments is quite striking, with almost one-quarter of hours worked in establishments with fewer than 100 employees being low paid, compared with less than 1 in 20 in establishments with 2,500 or more employees.

Add to that the fact statistics from another BLS study. That study, released in September of last year, showed not only that nearly all of the surveyed larger private industry employers (100 workers or more) offered health insurance compared with just over half of smaller employers but that larger establishments were twice as likely as smaller to offer retirement plans as well. Consider those facts and you’ve got a pretty good case for thinking big. That truth holds particularly dear when you consider that many estimate that employer-sponsored benefits value some 20% – 25% of income.

So until the workplace becomes more accommodating of family demands, chalk another one up to big companies.