NEW FREEDOM FOR TODAY'S WORKING WOMEN Computers provide new opportunities for some to work at home, have more flexible hours


Dearborn, Mich.

Back in 1980 Jackie McLure adopted a 3-month-old daughter and took a leave of absence from her job as an administrative assistant at a hospital. But, she soon grew restless for something else to do.

So Ms. McLure accepted some projects from her former employer. And several months later, the computer novice decided to start a desktop publishing business in her home.

"I had to look in a dictionary and see what RAM meant," said the 45-year-old Ms. McLure, founder and owner of Jacque Consulting, in Dearborn.

But she refused to be denied access to this new tool. She pored over manuals and took computer classes at a local community college.

In no time, Ms. McLure had hooked up her computer with others outside her house, allowing her to stay at home to work and take care of her daughter. She then imparted her knowledge of computers to other women, who, like herself, missed work but not necessarily the traditional workplace.

For the 10 women at Jacque Consulting, computers are a godsend. Although women's attempts to juggle motherhood and career remain a problem in the '90s, the success of Jacque underscores how new technologies have allowed some women to enjoy flexible hours or work at home.

Carol Romano, who knew nothing about computers, learned on the job and from Ms. McLure. She gave up her post as a church secretary, and she is now the desktop company's production manager. "It was time for a career for me," Ms. Romano said. "I didn't want to make work with housework."

Ms. McLure says it would have been nearly impossible to start her business without computers -- or, for that matter, without faxes or increasingly sophisticated telephones. "I think the computer is the key to unlocking these opportunities," she said.

Like most offices, Ms. McLure's is crammed with representations of the constants in a mutable world -- pictures of her husband and her 11-year-old daughter -- but the smallness of her office merely emphasizes the importance these people and ideas hold in her life. "The family's first -- your family, church, community and then work," Ms. McLure said.

At Jacque, Ms. McLure has succeeded in creating a community of working women. Although men have worked there in the past, none has stayed too long and none is there now. "Many of the men who worked for us missed the corporate experience," Ms. Romano offered as an explanation.

Jeanine Stevenson, who has worked as art director for four years, was employed in a large corporation before changing jobs. Jacque, Ms. Stevenson said, has none of the internal competitiveness she experienced at her old job.

"She's very sensitive to issues like children," she said of her boss. Ms. Stevenson has a 2-year-old daughter and a husband working on a MBA. "I have a very tight schedule and she's very flexible about what time I work. Corporations are a little more stringent about your time and require more overtime."

Ms. McLure, who was one of the very first to buy an Apple laptop (the large cumbersome ones that never sold), is not prepared to let her success narrow her vision.

"You can't drop out for three months," she said. "It's not like the industrial age. When I started, I received an updated word processing program two years after I bought it. The computer age is moving so fast that you can now get an updated software program every six months."

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