In the hopes of reaching the moon men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet.
In the hopes of reaching the moon men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet.
I am not a fan of quotas, and I do not want to see us go down that path to assure women positions of leadership in this country. The Supreme Court has been chipping away at quotas since the Bakke decision of the 1970s, including the New Haven firefighters decision handed down by the Court in 2009. The imposition of quotas does not seem to have gone too well for academia or in the public sector, and the winds are blowing in the direction of doing away with quotas in other settings if the Supreme Court has its way. However, here I am not looking at quotas as a legal issue but, rather, as a practical matter and an indicator of what is best to advance women in our profession.
The UK and other European Union countries are toying with mandates for women on corporate boards. The British Parliament is considering a law that requires at least 3 women on corporate boards of a certain size, and the EU seems to be following suit. I like the result, but I do not like the pathway to that result. Here is why.
It seems to me that women lawyers want to get where they need to go by being qualified and being recognized for their merit. History shows us that quotas cause more resentment than respect, and such a result would be regrettable. It does not matter how high you rise if you are not taken seriously when you get there.
Although I applaud the efforts of women general counsels in corporations and companies in encouraging the inclusion of women lawyers on their outside counsel teams, I want to believe that those general counsels want women of merit and talent to safeguard their corporate entities and handle their legal affairs. In other words, they do not want women just because they are women.
We do not need quotas, even though we know that the progress in seeing women reach positions of leadership and management in both law and business has been painfully slow. But we cannot lose faith. Women lawyers are very talented, and they will get where they need to go by being the best lawyers they can be and becoming noticed and promoted for their talents. Let’s do it the old-fashioned way instead of by mandate that creates resentment and probably leads to being marginalized even if we make it to the top. Being a token is never a good thing.
Let’s not follow the UK and the EU on this one. After all, there has been some suspect decision-making on economic and financial issues coming from our friends overseas lately, and our country is trying hard to recover from the global effects. We don’t need any copycat action on quotas. This is not an Italian bag or a Swiss watch that we would be knocking off. This is our professional reputation as women lawyers.
We are women, and we know how to work hard and how to achieve and succeed. As Helen Reddy said, “I am woman, hear me roar.”
And, roar we will! Even without quotas.
Don’t diss your colleagues on the way up. As we all know, you may need them on the way down.
There is only one success–to be able to spend your life in your own way.
It is wonderful when it works the way that it is supposed to. The“it” is the process of advice and counsel and having a happy ending. Here is an example.
Recently I heard from a young woman lawyer, who I met over a year ago at a law school event. I spoke that night to law students and law alumni about my book, and this young woman was in the audience. I met her afterwards, and we stayed in touch. At one point, she contacted me when she was at a real crossroads in her career, and she needed advice.
In short, this young woman was an associate at a law firm where she was being recognized for her excellent work. She appeared to be on target for partnership, but then the predictable happened. She became pregnant with her first child, and she discussed part-time work—-a four-day work week—with her firm. The managing partner was supportive of the four-day schedule, but other partners were not as enthusiastic. They thought that the law firm was not “equipped for part-time lawyers” and that it would be a difficult precedent. For them, the bottom line was that she would be “less profitable” on a reduced schedule. It always is—whether or not is actually is true.
She contacted me with heartfelt queries like, “How can we get ahead if they won’t make some room for us to have both…to balance?” She also told me that, although the firm would not agree to a four-day schedule, she was offered the opportunity to work from home one day a week on a regular schedule. However, she did not think that would accomplish her goal of spending more time with her infant son. She also told me that the managing partner was willing to ask for reconsideration of the decision, but she did not think that would do any good.
Here is what I told her:
“I am so sorry to hear of this response from your firm. It is what continues to disappoint me in this profession.
However, it is not over until it is over, and I encourage you to take the managing partner up on his offer for reconsideration. You also might want to request to speak to the broader committee. If the emphasis is on productivity, then prepare yourself for that meeting with information on your productivity—-your past productivity and efficiency. You can ask for the situation to be reviewed in six months to examine the productivity issues—when you hopefully will be able to show that you continue to be highly productive even working four days a week. You will have to compromise on salary with the reduced-hours schedule, but you need to remember to keep the goal in mind—-working one day less a week to spend more time with your son.
You also want to emphasize that your case should be reviewed independently from considerations of future requests by others for part-time. Hopefully, you are a known entity who has proven your worth, and your situation is unique.
As a fall back, I would suggest that you take the offer to work at home one day a week and try to demonstrate productivity that may help to convince the partners to reconsider the part-time issue at a later date. Even though it does not sound like working at home will give you more time with your son, you will find that you will work differently and still have your personal time. You will work when the baby is sleeping during the day, after you put him down at night and on the weekends when your mate has time to care for your son and give you the time you need to continue in your profession. You know going into it that it will not be easy, but it will be possible. We all remember these difficult times, but we also remember the pride in proving that we could do it.
Fast forward to present—-a year later. This young woman reports that she decided to stay on a full-time schedule but work one day a week from her home. Ultimately, she was convinced that working just one day a week less was not worth the stigma that part-time work still has in many workplaces. But, most important, she loves her new arrangement. She tries to be “super productive” the four days that she is at the office, and on Fridays she works from home and has time with her son in the mornings. At her annual review, the partners told her that they were very impressed with her productivity and that they were happy with the arrangement—-which means, of course, they are still making plenty of money off her work.
So, there’s a success story for you to file away. Creativity is the key to success in difficult situations. This young woman was willing to retreat but then decided to give her second choice a try. It worked out beautifully, and she did not have to leave her firm and look for greener pastures.
It was a win-win, and I am happy to have been a part of it.
I love it when it works the way it is supposed to!
I failed my way to success.
I have had lots of time to reflect recently as I recover from knee surgery—an old ski injury flaring up again. Post-op recovery includes lots of time on a Continuous Passive Motion machine and a second machine to cool the surgery site—not a happy place to be for someone active like me. But, my daughter knew exactly what to do to keep me content, and she introduced me to the reruns of the popular TV show Mad Men. So, I currently am wading my way through Season 3 and rejecting pain medication so that I can stay awake and become completely addicted to Mad Men. So far, it’s working!
I love a lot about Mad Men because it reminds me of all the 50’s and 60’s stuff in my house growing up. My dad even had one of those “man’s valet” things for hanging out his clothes for the next day, like the one in Don and Betsy Draper’s suburban bedroom. However, that is where the similarities between my father and Don Draper end, and that is a great relief!
In addition to being entertained by Mad Men, I also have discovered some real gems in the story line that are appropos for young women lawyers today. For instance, remember the episode from Season 2 when Don Draper and his companion are headed to their afternoon liaison at the shore, and they get into a car accident? The companion, a “client” of sorts, ends up at discreet Peggy’s apartment sleeping off the effects of alcohol and waiting for her tell-tale black eye to fade in color. She gives Peggy some sage advice. Although I am not impressed by the counselor, I am impressed by the counsel—especially for that time in history. She can see that Peggy is ambitious, and she tells Peggy not to act like a man to get where she wants to go. She tells her to start acting like a woman and play on par with the men.
That advice fits perfectly with one of the big themes of Best Friends at the Bar. I tell young women in my books and in my speaking appearances that they will have to throw off the time-honored recipes for success that are rooted in male stereotypes. Young women professionals today have many different considerations and responsibilities in their private lives than the average male, and the young women will have to chart their own courses, including developing their own personal definitions of success.
Those personal definitions of success can include part-time practice or full-time practice for those who have the help they need on the home front. The definitions can include law firm practice or alternative practice settings like not-for-profit, academia, in-house at a corporation, and public service. All of those alternatives and others are explored in my new book that will come out later this year. Keep an eye out for it.
Developing personal definitions of success will allow young women lawyers to succeed at their practices of choice and to stay in the profession during the most challenging work-life years. It will allow them to preserve their professional selves for the time when the responsibilities of home and family wane and they have opportunities to dive back into practice with a renewed effort and a new definition of success.
This is not exactly the message that the “client” was delivering to Peggy in Mad Men, but those were different times. If you think professional life is difficult for women today, check out a few of the episodes. Women may have it tough today because of the work-life struggle and the remnants of a male-dominated profession, but at least they are not invisible in the room on anything of a serious nature.
However, the theme of Mad Men is similar to Best Friends at the Bar. You are not men, and you cannot always compete with them in the same way that other men can. There will be times in your careers when home and family will make competing on an even playing field with men almost impossible. Practically speaking, you cannot compete with the men unless you have no greater responsibilities in your personal life than the men you work for or the men you compete against.
So, be Mad Women! Be your own person, chart your own course, define your own success and celebrate when you accomplish your goals. Go after what you want, and be smart about the way you do it. Preserve your options however you can. It will not always be such a difficult work-life struggle, and you will want to be around to chart your new course when that time comes.
It worked for me, and I hope it works for you!
Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.