I met with a law student the other day to discuss her possibly doing vacation work at my firm in July after her June exams. She told me about a discussion her class had with a female lecturer recently where the lecturer advised female students to forget about having a family until they had progressed as far as they could go in their careers. The subtext is that having a family is a career killer for women lawyers. I remember a similar tension years ago when I was in a large firm and it was an old problem then. It seems that it remains a serious issue today.
I remember a number of conversations with skilled and accomplished women attorneys who practically had to resign themselves to few further major career moves once they decided to have children. It pretty much boiled down to these women having a split focus once they had children and not being perceived to be capable of holding down a substantive practice of their own and taking care of the family.
It was gratifying to read a post by Joanne Wilson (aka Gotham Gal) titled “Still CEO of the Wilson household” in which she describes her life and work commitments. She talks about the many startups she works with while still making sure her home was kept running:
Although the 70% of my time spent on family is no longer 70% it is much less but it is far from zero. I have just figured out how to do it all within the 24 hours of the day and of course taking time out to sleep. Bottom line, as more and more women leave the workplace or re-enter the workplace, the reality is that whatever they choose to do for themselves or even if they never left work, their day job as CEO of the household will always continue to exist. So when VC’s or investors are concerned that pregnant entrepreneurs or women with families make them take pause to invest the reality is most women are doing a helluva lot more than anyone realizes and they thrive on it.
Her husband, well known venture capitalist Fred Wilson, weighed in with his post yesterday titled “Motherhood and Entrepreneurship” in which he reinforced his wife’s point that she can and does do it all:
I’ve watched the Gotham Gal go right back to work a week after our first child was born because it was a startup and they needed her. She managed it pretty well. We used to swap days we had to be home early to relieve Betty (our child caregiver at the time). I’ve watched her take on another startup working in an office in the basement of our house selling ad space in between driving the kids here and there. And as she says in the post, she always had dinner on the table, always made sure the kids had what they needed, and always made sure our home was functioning. She still does that even though she’s got something like a couple dozen projects going right now.
This notion that a working mother has less intrinsic value than male counterparts is as offensive now as it was 6 years ago and as it has been for generations. Its easy for men to say that working mothers don’t and can’t possibly contribute as much as men do and that women should accept that having a family means they just won’t progress much further in demanding work environments. What those men don’t notice is that there are women working twice as hard as men every day: they are getting their work done and taking care of their families. I’ve had the odd few days when I’ve had to take care of our son and still get my work done. I had help from our housekeeper and, even then, it wasn’t easy. I developed so much respect for working women, generally, and single mothers, in particular in those moments.
I am sure many firms have taken steps to create a more equitable working environment for working mothers and to make sure that the fact that they have children isn’t an immediate disability and those firms should be applauded for that. Unfortunately it seems that the dominant perception is that working mothers are less capable and productive. What is worse is that this perception is being presented to the next generation of lawyers as a Truth which they must simply accept and this just propogates the misperception that working mothers have less value in a professional environment. I find this perception to be offensive and it totally underestimates what contribution these women make on so many levels. I hope those young women about to enter the legal (and other) profession refuse to accept this perception and make their own way in their chosen careers.
As Gotham Gal put it:
No offense guys, I’d love to see any of you do this.