"My company offers flex time and other options designed to help working parents. But those who use them are not seen as 'career minded.' How can I change this?"
This one that really rubs my nerves! This bias exists because leaders still have a "pay for face time” versus a "pay for performance” mentality. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Unfortunately, changing bias is not easy. Here’s what I would do:
First, earn a reputation for delivering exceptional results.
Second, build and nurture vertical and horizontal relationships. The focus should be on building trust and establishing yourself as a leader who does what she says she’s going to do.
Once your reputation is rock-solid, have a conversation with your immediate manager about your desire to use flex time. Tell him or her that you are career-minded, but need support at this stage in your life to manage all of your responsibilities. Explain to your manager this is not something you’ll need for the rest of your career, only for this time period.
Lay out a plan for communicating daily with the people you work with. Explain how you’ll handle the "She’s not here again" sound bites.
Do it. If your manager and your company are not willing to set you up for success, then maybe you need to exercise the power of your feet and get with a company that fully embraces flex time as a part of their talent management strategies.
The time that you spend with your kids (or aging parents) will not come back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Don’t shortchange yourself or your family. Make corporate America work for you, not against you. Until workplace transformation becomes a reality, each of us must find our voice and challenge the system.
What’s the worst they can say? No? Maybe for you, their "No" will lead to your "No," as in "No, thank you. I don’t care to work in an environment that doesn't get me. Period!"