According to a recent survey by “Working Mother” and “Flex Time” magazine, it can be argued that women lawyers in the US still are disadvantaged. The survey shows that, although flexible arrangements exist for women on the “mommy track” at law firms, the result is that promotions to partnership for those women still are not occurring to any “great extent.”
Further survey data shows that none of the women lawyers promoted to partner in 2013 were working reduced-hour schedules at the time. For 2014, there was only one. The survey also reports that women still comprise only 19% of equity partners in the most prestigious law firms, only a 3% increase since the first survey in 1977. This data is quite consistent with the most recent National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) annual report.
The data is interpreted by some to mean that women lawyers are being “marginalized and underemployed.” That certainly is one way of looking at it. However, another way of interpreting this data is to say that women are exercising their choices. Women lawyers are deciding to work fewer hours or at reduced schedules for a portion of their careers because they need that flexibility to have full lives as women, spouses and mothers. However, according to the survey, only 20% of lawyers in the surveyed firms use full-time flex-time work arrangements, 10% work reduced hours, and 10% opt for job-sharing.
So, what is wrong with that? It means that a large percentage of women lawyers are choosing to work full-time —- except for those who have dropped out. Are we supposed to prefer that women drop out of the profession rather than make choices to work fewer hours and to delay partnership as a work-life strategy? Are we ignoring the fact that an increasing number of women lawyers do not want to be promoted to partnership and assume greater responsibilities for client generation, law firm management and programs that are firm-funded benefits for non-partners? For instance, as partners, lawyers are self-employed and must pay for their own healthcare — a huge number in most cases.
A recent article in Fuel reported this data and concluded, “If data from the latest survey are any indication, women [lawyers] still pay a high price for taking time off the fast track.” Really.
From my perspective, it all depends on how you define a “high price.” If a high price is having some time with your children and feeling a part of their upbringing, then I guess the Fuel article is correct. If a high price is maintaining a healthy relationship with your mate through an investment of time and attention, then I guess the Fuel article is correct. If a high price is investing time and attention in aging parents, then I guess the Fuel article is correct. Otherwise, I think the high price might be staying on the fast track and ignoring the other needs in your life.
The Fuel article also points out that some of the women surveyed did not “catch up” on the career path until their kids were teenagers. And??????? And then they became partners? If so, they had a lot of years of the fast track to look forward to. Most of you will have twenty years left in the workforce by the time that your last child leaves the nest. That is a lot of fast track.
A lot can be accomplished in twenty years. It could be a nice vantage point to look back on all that had been accomplished on the personal side and look forward to all that was left to accomplish on the professional side. Not everyone would choose that vantage point, but that is what is so liberating. It is all about choices.
Choose well and own your choices. The only wrong choice is one that you do not make yourself. I chose, and I never felt disadvantaged. I felt empowered.