The management at the last full-time, in-office job I had was insistent that I arrive at 9 a.m. and not leave before 5 p.m. I got my work done quickly and was often finished with my tasks by 2 p.m. I asked for more work, but my supervisor didn't want to "share" my time and skills with another department. I watched lovely afternoons slide by while I was stuck at my desk, surfing the Internet. On the upside, I used my extra time at work to create and write for my own site, which later made my career. But before you judge those actions, hold on; right before I gave my notice so I could attend graduate school, I was given a large promotion. To me, it's clear my work was good, and that's what should have mattered, not what time I arrived or how long I sat there.

But so many managers judge employee performance by how much time they spend at their desks. I was able to use that time to my benefit, but I can only imagine how much more frustrating it would have been had I been a parent, to have to put in "face time" at a job when I could have been spending that time with them or doing something for them.

That would have been a silly waste of life's most precious commodity — time — and yet, it happens at all kinds of workplaces.

The stigma of flex time

Women are most often called away from work due to caring for kids or older parents — meaning they have less face time at work — and they are penalized for it. One of the proven causes of the gender gap has to do with what social scientists call the flexibility stigma, which is that even in companies that offer flexible working time, those who take it are considered less serious workers. Since parents (and moms especially) are more likely to want or need a flexible schedule, they are seen as doing less work (even if they aren't), which can lead to them getting passed over for promotions or other advancements. That then leads to lower earnings. See the excellent video below that really breaks down how women get penalized — and for what kinds of jobs — during the childrearing years.

A new kind of employment model

“Eighty percent of companies say they offer flexibility, but it’s a black market topic. You raise it and you’re not taken seriously," Annie Dean, a former lawyer told the New York Times. She started a new company, Werk, with a former consultant, Anna Auerbach. The company matches those who need flexible schedules with companies that want work done, not butts in seats for x hours a day. There are options for workers who don't want to travel, options for those who need to work unconventional hours, and options for those who have unpredictable schedules and more.

This kind of employment model could go part of the way towards easing the gap in pay between genders, especially in fields where it's the quality of work done, not time spent at the office, that matters. Obviously flex time doesn't work for jobs like teaching, police work or medical care where bodies are needed to do work at specific times. But when it comes to work like business and law, where women are still underrepresented in the top positions, it could work well. Strangely enough, in those professions where timing isn't as important, employees are still judged for when they show up and for how long.

For parents — or anyone else who values their time away from work — it's not worth the wasted time for the eventual larger salary, or it's just impossible to compromise more than they already do. Eventually, those people aren't the ones who rise to the top, even if their work is as good as or better than their peers. That's a business problem too, on top of a personnel one.

Not only would true flextime benefit those employees who have other things to do in life outside of work — especially parents, the majority of whom want to organize their lives around both work and kids — it would seem that a more nimble system would ultimately reward those who do the best job, not just those who get points for always being in the office.

It might even lead to a more successful company.

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Here's a practical way to close the gender wage gap: Flex time
Judging workers' value by time spent at a desk hurts working moms — and companies' bottom lines. Flex time could fix it.