February 2009 - Posts
We are joined by student guest blogger Alex Crohn. Alex is a member of the Harvard Law School class of 2009.
I was once told that the reason gay men and women have thrived so much in finance is because banks realized that gays were less likely to have families and would therefore be less distracted from their work. Now, I am all for the increased presence of gay individuals in fields that have traditionally been dominated by straight men, but somehow this fact did little to comfort me. Whether or not this story was actually the truth, it remained true that in the early days when gay men and women first started coming out in the workplace they were simply less likely to have children, and as a result, were able to devote more time to their work.
We live in a different time now and gays are increasingly seen not just as efficient workers, but as individuals with specific needs. Many law firms have LGBT affinity groups, attend LGBT career fairs, adopt non-discrimination policies, and provide leave to new parents who adopt. Yet disparities still exist, and these disparities show that law firms have failed to completely acknowledge the reality of gay families. In almost all law firms, more time is given for maternity leave than the leave given to parents who adopt. This, of course, ignores the fact that in some same-sex relationships, neither parent will qualify for maternity leave. Biological births present unique challenges to mothers, but adoption has its own share of hardships. Providing reduced leave for adoptions fails to acknowledge the fact that gay couples face significant challenges during the adoption process that are incredibly time consuming. Gay couples experience increased scrutiny from private adoption agencies and are prohibited from adopting children from certain foreign countries. Additionally, some law firms give monetary gifts to lawyers who get married. This of course ignores the fact that the vast majority of gay lawyers are legally prohibited from getting married and are ineligible for such a gift. A failure to acknowledge the impact this has on gay couples in committed relationships reveals a lack of sensitivity on the part of some law firms towards the needs of their gay employees.
The issues that gay lawyers face in major firms are not insurmountable obstacles and are clearly within the power of firms to address. Of course these issues are relatively minor when we are faced with the fact that 30 states provide no workplace protection on the basis of sexual orientation, 37 states provide no protection on the basis of gender identity/expression, and no federal laws exist whatsoever to protect the LBGT community from workplace discrimination. And of course there are many legal employers that provide no recognition of their gay employees. However, until employers that pride themselves on the inclusive nature of their legal practice provide full acknowledgment of the reality of gay families, gay employees will continue to be seen only as efficient workers, and not as individuals with specific needs.
Today we are welcoming Phoebe Taubman as guest blogger. Her organization, A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center, issued a report in June 2008 entitled Seeking a Just Balance: Law Students Weigh in on Work and Family. She highlights the findings below.
Last year, my colleagues and I surveyed students at NYU School of Law to gauge their thoughts about balancing work and family in their future careers. Our findings provide a snapshot of attitudes and expectations among students at a top law school and offer some insights into how this group of lawyers can help to influence their profession.
We discovered surprising gender parity in student attitudes. Seventy-two percent of male students we surveyed, and 76% of female students, said they were very or extremely worried about being able to balance work and family as lawyers. That’s more than twice the number of students who were worried about earning top pay, handling high profile cases or working for a prestigious firm. Similarly, 7 out of 10 respondents said they expect to make career sacrifices in order to have a satisfying personal life. As one male student put it, “I wouldn’t like sending my kids to child care all day, and I’d rather be around for them.”
We found that both male and female law students are willing to put their money where their mouths are. Eight out of ten would be willing to trade money for time, that is, to accept reduced earnings in return for flexibility, predictability and reduced hours. According to one of male student, “All the firms pay pretty much the same amount, and prestige, you know, means something, but I think it’s a lot less important than kind of being in control of what your life looks like.”
Our findings are consistent with other evidence of increasing parity between men and women when it comes to worries about work/life balance. In a poll of likely voters conducted around Election Day 2008, three quarters of working fathers said they worry on a daily basis about meeting work and family demands. Similarly, a 2007 survey of Generation Y workers found that 73% of young people are worried about balancing work with their personal obligations.
While both men and women in our study agree that a larger cultural shift is necessary to make a healthy work/life balance possible for lawyers, there is still a disconnect between that view and the way they anticipate resolving these issues in their own lives. The women talked about solving work/family conflicts on an individual basis—by relying on a supportive spouse—while the men talked about relying on the inevitable change that an increasing flow of women in the field will bring. Along the same lines, female survey respondents expressed greater concern than their male peers about the nuts and bolts of a range of workplace policies. For example, 40% of women in our survey were very or extremely worried about having the option to work full-time flex-time, compared with only 15% of men.
Our survey shows that male and female law students have similar hopes for their careers and for their profession but that they need to coordinate better in order to turn those hopes into reality. Students should communicate more openly about their fears and aspirations around work and family, something that may be especially challenging and unfamiliar in the competitive environment of law school. Conversations between men and women are especially important. We hope that the “‘Opt-Out’ or Pushed Out” conference will spark such conversations, and we particularly encourage female conference attendees to engage their male peers on these issues. Ultimately, the more that work/family challenges and caregiving obligations are understood as gender-neutral responsibilities and privileges, the better off all lawyers, and their families, will be.
An integral part of the opt out discussion involves the "regular"
"standard" work day, whether that means 9-5 or 8-8 plus checking your
Blackberry at least twice an hour until you fall asleep. Another
critical aspect of the discussion involves the "standard" career path
(a continuous stint at one or several companies, with regular upward
advancement and increasing responsibility and compensation) versus one
that requires off ramps and on ramps (shorthand for
the degree to which it is possible for professionals, especially female
professionals, to leave the workplace entirely for a period of time,
often several years, and then jump back in and reintegrate themselves
into a full-time position with the possibility of advancement).
The concept of
workplace flexibility has sprung up in recent decades, and in theory
allows employees to structure their working time outside of this
"standard" frame. It can mean working part-time, shifting the work day,
telecommuting, changing responsibilities, or other ad hoc or
personalized tweaks that change the meaning of "work day" and "at
work." Expanding the discussion, we will address whether it is
possible for women to fully reintegrate into the workforce after an
absence, whether it should be possible, and how this might be accomplished.
In the Workplace Flexibility panel, we will discuss whether and
how employers and institutions can reshape how work is accomplished and what careers can look like in
order to accommodate the multi-faceted realities of their employees'
- Leslie Bennetts is a journalist and the author of The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?, a controversial and ground-breaking examination of women's life choices that was named one of the best books of 2007 by The Washington Post. She is also a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and Portfolio. Ms. Bennets spent more than a decade writing for The New York Times, and has also written for a number of other publications, including Town & Country, Parenting Magazine, and The Nation.
- Claudia Goldin is a professor of economics at Harvard University and director of the NBER's Development of the American Economy program. Her research is in the general area of American economic history. She is an author of several books, one of which is Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women. Ms. Goldin also writes and researches gender issues that include the career and family tradeoffs made by college-educated women and family and career transitions for men and women who have graduated from elite educational institutions.
- Michael Teter is a supervising attorney and clinical fellow at Georgetown University Law Center. As part of his clinical duties, he represents Workplace Flexibility 2010, a multi-year research, outreach, and consensus-building enterprise focused on developing a national policy on workplace flexibility that fits the needs of employers and employees. WF2010 is the lead policy component of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's National Initiative on Workplace Flexibility.
We are lucky to be joined by Lynn Neuner as a moderator of this
panel. Ms. Neuner is a litigation partner at Simpson Thacher &
Bartlett LLP in New York City. She is a 1992 graduate of Yale Law
School. The American Lawyer named Ms. Neuner one of the nation's top
litigation "rising stars" in its January 2007 issue: "The Young
Litigators Fab Fifty". She is also named in the 2008 issue of the New York Super Lawyers – Metro Edition.
panel can be a meaningful discussion of how women attorneys shape their
work-lives, but will only come to life with your participation. To
begin the discussion,
- What are your work hours? How many days a week do you work
outside the home? From home? What other scheduled activities create the
"frame" for your days, e.g., caretaking responsibilities, spiritual
observances, or classes or workshops to further some aspect of your
career? What do you wish your work hours were? Would it require working fewer hours, or working different hours (or both?)?
you left the work force, and if so, did you ever return to your former
company? To your former industry? To any full time work?
To learn more, check out some links that I have found useful and informative:
Women have made up 40% or more of law school students since 1985, but in 1996, only 14.2% of partners at law firms were women, and the number rose to only 17.2% in 2005. And the percentage of women equity partners is even lower; firms include non-equity partners when reporting numbers. At this rate, women will make up 50% of law firm partners in 2115.
Source: the current "Infobit" (at the sidebar) from the Project for Attorney Retention. (Older infobits here!), also included in Raising a Gavel for Women's Equality, which includes this statistic as well:
Less than 5 percent of the nation's largest law firms are led by women managing partners and only 16 percent of Fortune 500 companies have women as general counsel. And while our current Congress holds the record for the highest-ever female representation, 16 percent is no cause for celebration.
Yale Law Women Conference Co-Chair
Yale Law School Class of 2009
Sarah Waldeck writes a provocative piece called Milk for Concurring Opinions that links to some great recent articles about the relationship between pumping breast milk and the degree to which institutions are graded "mother-friendly." She takes on some broader underlying issues, and ties breast-feeding advocates to more uncomfortable and personal (more personal than breastfeeding? indeed) decisions women make about spending quality time with their infants. I find myself tempted to copy the entire (brief!) post, but instead I will offer only this as a party-starter:
For mothers who do eschew formula or at least resist the slippery
slope, breastfeeding is sometimes about more than “just” infant and
maternal health. We (rightly) hail the benefits of equal parenting. But
once society has tumbled to the conclusion that a baby is fine so long
as its caregiver is providing loving attention, some women
may feel the value of “mother” erode.
Go read it.
next student guest blogger is joining us today. The post below is
written by Ami Parekh, a joint MD/JD student and a member of the Yale
Law School Class of 2009. Ami is a married mother of an 8-month-old.
Opting Out of Law School
I used to LOVE the stairwell at Yale Law School. For those of you who
have never walked up our stairwell - it is located in the middle of our
one hallway'ed law school. It goes up three flights of stairs
culminating in the high ceilings of the main room of the library. And
on the walls of the stairwell is poster after poster advertising one
event or another, or asking students to join an advocacy or interest
group, or a journal, or a reading group. It, to me, was the purest
representation of why I came to Law School - so many exciting things
happening all the time in this little building on Wall Street - all of
which I could be a part of. It would often take me 30 minutes to walk
up the stairs - not because they were steep (okay, fine a little
because they were steep - especially when I was pregnant) but because I
would be reading the posters and deciding what to get involved in, and
what to go to.
This year, I have been known to avoid the stairwell. Not because I
wouldn't love to know what is going on at School, but because it is a
reminder of the things I can't go to. This year, my third year, is my
first year as a mom in law school. There are many pluses about being a
mom in law school - a flexible schedule being probably the biggest
advantage of having a child in school versus while working. However,
there are minuses and some of the minuses are a result of the system of
recognition and reward we have set up at law schools.
A little bit about me, the mom part. In some ways, I may be unique - I,
the mom, am the law student. Although I would never admit this before
having the baby, there are differences between being a dad and being a
mom -- breastfeeding and morning sickness during pregnancy being two
key differences. My husband works a lot as well (and commutes to NYC
everyday to financially support me and my expensive education - and in
some ways, I have had a similar experience as the one Josh describes
in his blog post) - so I do not have a partner who can really shoulder
the logistical responsibilities that come with having a child. Finally,
we have decided on group childcare - we think our daughter thrives in
group care and want her to have that. We did not get off the waitlist
at any of the Yale day cares (YLS daycare told me they had a waitlist
14 people long when I got on it - I signed up when I was 12 weeks
pregnant!), so my daughter's daycare is a 20 minute drive from the Law
You might be wondering why I am boring you with the details of how we
do childcare, but it is important because it means that I can't get to
law school before 8:30 and I have to leave by 5. This means not only
that I can't take classes that meet outside of those times - and
believe me, there are a number of them; but it also means I can't do
most of the activities I used to love.
This would not be so problematic actually - because in some ways I made
a choice - to have a child. I "opted" to have this child. So it seems
fair that I have to give up some things - all parents do. However, the
problem comes when it is precisely those things that make you a "good"
Yale Law Student. For example, many would tell you that if you would
like to clerk for a Judge, you should work on a Journal. Unfortunately,
most journal work, the source-citing and book pulls, occurs after
7:30pm. As do moot court, trial practice and most of the other things
good law students should have on their resumes.
In addition to these "prestigious" activities that ambitious law
students "should" pursue, many activities that may be seen as less
important but were integral to my law school experience were also out
of my reach. For example, most of the progressive reading groups and
meetings were after 5pm, as were most YLW membership meetings.
All in all, in my case, it isn’t that important that I do a journal, or
moot court, or trial practice – I am not going to be a lawyer next year
(I am a joint MD/JD so will be a resident physician – but a discussion
of that would be a whole separate blog post!). All I lost, really, was
the option to do a few things I would have enjoyed doing and taking a
few classes I would have enjoyed taking – so maybe I “opted out” of
being a good law student. However, if I truly wanted to clerk, or land
a “prestigious law job,” I wonder if I could have opted out so easily
or I would have be “pushed out” of pursuing those types of career
paths. At Yale, a lot of us don't want to be lawyers when we graduate,
which might make this less problematic; however, we also don't get
grades which makes our extracurriculars a little more important
regardless of what we want to do when we graduate - this, I think, may
make it significantly harder for parents to truly succeed as Yale law
There are ways to improve the situation for parents. For one thing -
make on site daycare a priority. Yale uses their limited spots to
attract professors, but by limiting the availability to students, it
truly hampers the ability for parents to become full members of the YLS
community. Second, if onsite daycare is not feasible - have onsite back
up care available. On this point, Yale can learn from hospitals and law
firms that provide free care for a number of days of the year: 20 - 40
at most places. Third, encourage student organizations to try and
schedule meetings during the day - lunchtime could be used much more
often; similary encourage professors to have classes within the times
that daycare operates. Fourth, include the actual cost of daycare in
financial aid decisions - Daycare costs $13,050 for the academic year
after taxes (about $23,000 pre tax dollars) - this has to be included
as a necessary cost when determining need. Lastly, on a cultural level,
encourage, support and acknowledge the student parents - raising
children in law school is not easy and it should be respected - the law
school should be publicly proud it has parents among its student body.
The main goal of the conference is to uncover what factors are influencing the choices of women lawyers in the workplace. The conference presumes a problem in the fact that women are leaving the legal profession and advancing in a noticeably different pattern than men. But what that problem is, where it comes from, and why it perpetuates are big areas of disagreement and debate that invite careful reflection on the role of gender and the incentive structures, professional and domestic, that inform the “choices” women make in subtle and not so subtle ways.
These are the orienting concerns our first panel on Friday, March 24th will begin to address. We are lucky to have four extremely knowledgeable speakers who have written and worked on the “opt out” phenomenon in depth but from different professional orientations.
- E.J. Graff, author of “The Opt-Out Myth” published in the Columbia Journalism Review in 2007, is a journalist whose work appears in the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Columbia Journalism Review, The New Republic, and the Women's Review of Books. She is currently the senior researcher directing the Gender & Justice Project at Brandeis University's Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, and works on issues of gender and workplace discrimination.
- Pamela Stone is a Professor of Sociology at Hunter College in New York and a fellow at the Gender Equity Project. Her bio can be found here. She is the author of numerous articles on work-life interaction, pay equity, workplace discrimination, and gender bias in employment. Her recent book “Opting Out?: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home,” analyzes labor market trends, the experiences of a sample of high achieving women, the media treatment of what became known as “opting out,” and why these three do not match up.
- Audrey Bracey Deegan has over 20 years of experience consulting on strategic and organizational issues, both inside and outside companies such as McKinsey & Co. and Deloitte LLP. Deegan has worked closely with companies in examining the effect workplace culture and organization has on encouraging career advancement and talent development. She was part of Deloitte’s major workplace reforms that examined out of date assumptions about female and male work preferences, and has worked on the effects of workplace structure in the law firm setting.
- Paulette Brown is a partner at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge and is the Chief Diversity Officer and a member of EAPD’s Labor & Employment Practice Group. She has published several articles examining the experiences and particular challenges of women of color in the legal profession. She is also the current co-chair of the ABA’s Women of Color Research Initiative.
We are also lucky to be joined by Professor Vicki Schultz of the Yale Law School, an expert in the fields of employment law and the intersection of work and gender, who will be moderating this panel.
We are looking forward to beginning the discussion with these panelists and all of you! Please post questions and comments related to “defining the problem” and let us know what you would like our panelists and conference participants to discuss. A few initial questions to get our juices flowing:
- What is the term “opting out” supposed to express? How is it linked to the idea of choice and voluntariness?
- Who is harmed when noticeable numbers of pre-retirement age women leave the elite workforce? What makes this more relevant than an isolated individual choice?
- What type of data is most useful in examining the status of women in the legal profession? How does the use of certain sources distort a complete view of the “problem”?
- What are we most afraid of in discussing whether women are opting out or not? What are the implications we want to resist in the idea that women would not opt for complete and equal workforce participation? How is this gendered and how is this about work-life balance and workplace incentives that are (or could be) gender neutral?
Yale Law Women Conference Planning Committee Member
Yale Law School Class of 2009
I would love to put together a list of other great websites and blogs. Here are two to get us started, but please post more in the comments!
Ms. JD, Changing the Face of the Legal Profession: http://ms-jd.org/, especially this post, an interview in the "SuperWomen JDs" series.
Mommy Track'd, Managing the Chaos of Modern Motherhood, http://www.mommytrackd.com, especially http://www.mommytrackd.com/moments and http://www.mommytrackd.com/onthejob/ramps
In this guest post, we welcome Chai Feldblum and Michael Teter. Chai Feldblum is a Professor at Georgetown Law and Co-Director of
Workplace Flexibility 2010, an initiative supporting the development of
comprehensive public policy on workplace flexibility that meets the
needs of both employees and employers. Michael Teter (YLS ’02) is a Teaching Fellow and supervising attorney
in the Federal Legislation and Administrative Clinic at Georgetown
Law. Workplace Flexibility 2010 is a client of the Clinic. Mr. Teter will be a panelist on the Workplace Flexibility Panel at the Conference.
For more information, visit www.workplaceflexibility2010.org.
Opting or pushed, women attorneys’ exit from the legal profession denotes a serious problem in the American workplace. Indeed, more broadly, the unmistakable and erroneous message from such women’s exit resonates across the professional world: to remain competitive, our workplaces cannot afford to place any significant value on the personal and family needs of the American workforce. The result is that Americans struggling with the demands of work cannot always meet the needs of their families – and are sometimes forced to choose between them.
Over the last forty years, the American workplace has become increasingly demanding of workers’ time. In addition, the demographics of the American workforce have shifted dramatically in recent decades. Women now represent a major component of the American workforce – and, for most American families, the reality of today’s economy is that both members of a couple must work full time.
But to date, the normative structures of our workplaces have failed to catch up with the full ramifications of these changes. In an era when most families no longer have a person at home who can be tasked with ordinary life needs, there is often a serious mismatch between the workplace and the day-to-day realities of working families. Millions of American workers struggle to succeed at work while meeting the demands of family – and a significant majority feel they fail to achieve either one very well. And some believe that struggle has now prompted an exodus of some of the most highly trained, economically valuable women from the legal profession and from the public workplace.
Balancing work and home life is almost always painted as an individual problem that each employee or family must face alone. But achieving that balance isn’t an individual problem; it’s a societal imperative that demands public policy attention. In order to ensure the long-term strength of the American workforce – which requires providing professional women the opportunities they need to succeed at work while also caring for their families – we must address the mismatch between the policies that structure our workplaces and the daily realities faced by American employees.
At the same time, we must also acknowledge that this issue is much broader than just a caregiving issue and certainly broader than a “women’s issue.” As a realistic matter, the pressure to balance work and family is often still gender-skewed because women tend to carry more caregiving responsibilities than men. But this pressure is felt by both women and men in the workplace today who take their caregiving responsibilities seriously.
Indeed, this pressure to balance work and life is felt by millions of working Americans, representing every age, race, gender, and income level. It is felt by those who want to remain active in the workplace when faced with a chronic disease or disability; it is felt by those who are struggling to sustain a normal family life when a loved one is deployed to a war zone; it is felt by those who wish to phase into retirement but not leave the workforce completely; and it is felt by those who want to succeed at work while also returning to school, or engaging fully in their religious practices, or volunteering in their community.
Workplace flexibility – an approach that encompasses options from flexible work schedules and telecommuting to extended time off and phased retirement – is a solution at the crossroads of that myriad of pressures facing our workforce. Flexibility can help ease the intense strain that is created by the competing demands of work and personal obligations or family needs. It can provide employees with:
- The ability to have flexibility in the scheduling of their full-time hours;
- The ability to have flexibility in the number of hours they choose to work;
- The ability to address unexpected and ongoing personal and family needs as they arise; and
- The ability to have career flexibility with multiple points for entry, exit, and reentry into the workforce.
Essentially, it provides employees with the flexibility and freedom to work – and with the opportunity to achieve the highest professional success possible – without sacrificing personal fulfillment beyond the workplace.
The benefits of workplace flexibility for employees are obvious. But there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that workplace flexibility can also benefit employers. Flexibility is already serving as a strategic management tool for businesses to attract the best talent and increase their competitive advantage. Flexibility is being used in organizations and industries across the country to reduce turnover rates, boost recruitment, and enhance productivity and performance. And flexibility is now recognized by a growing number of business leaders as a way to streamline and modernize how work gets done.
Workplace flexibility can support both employers and employees in meeting the demands of the 21st century economy. But in order to make workplace flexibility a new standard of the American workplace, we must not only encourage voluntary business practices – but also develop consensus-based, common-sense public policies that work for families and in the marketplace.
Unfortunately, over the last several decades, the policy debate around the intersection of work and family has been plagued by political stalemate. But we believe that – through meaningful dialogue with business leaders, labor representatives, family, aging and disability advocates, and policymakers from both sides of the aisle – we can develop comprehensive workplace flexibility solutions that bridge political divides in Washington and beyond.
As workplace flexibility becomes an integral part of the American workplace, it will help ensure that women have every opportunity to flourish in their professional lives while caring for their families, whatever their choices about work may be. Ultimately, we believe workplace flexibility will support more effective business, a stronger workforce, and healthier families.
One aspect of the “Opt Out/Pushed Out” question that often gets overlooked is the “life” half of the (quickly becoming clichéd) phrase “work-life balance.” Yet what it happening at home is inextricably linked to what is happening at work. It is simply impossible to address the larger issues women (and men) face in the workplace without addressing their experiences at home.
And so, I am excited to introduce what will be our third panel, “Parenthood and Gender Roles.” The panel will examine how popular myths and ideals of parenthood are contributing to the “opt out” problem, how family and care responsibilities play out at home, and how we can examine and address these issues.
We have four terrific panelists who bring extensive knowledge, research, and experience to this topic.
Marc and Amy Vachon were featured in a New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story that came out in June, “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” They are the founders of EquallySharedParenting.com and have been featured in the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the Today Show, Fitness Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Marc and Amy are currently writing a book about the benefits, challenges and practicalities of creating an egalitarian family life for Perigee/Penguin to be published in 2010.
Francine Deutsch is a Professor of Psychology and Sociology at Mount Holyoke College and the author of Halving It All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works.
She has explored the division of domestic labor in the modern American family and has researched and written extensively on gender equity at home and in the labor market and its effects on women’s well-being in a global economy.
Kathleen Gerson is a Professor of Sociology at N.Y.U. and has published widely in the areas of gender, work, and family issues. Her books include Hard Choices: How Women Decide About Work, Career, and Motherhood; No Man’s Land: Men’s Changing Commitments to Family and Work; and The Time Divide: Family, Work, and Gender Inequality (with Jerry A. Jacobs). Her new book, Blurring Boundaries: How the Children of the Gender Revolution Are Remaking Work, Family, and American Life (forthcoming in Fall 2009), examines young women’s and men’s responses to growing up in an era of changing families and gender transformations.
If you are interested in further reading on this topic, I suggest taking a look at some of the following thought-provoking articles:
While we would love for men to participate in the conference as a whole, I strongly encourage men to attend this panel in particular and women planning on attending the conference to pass information about this panel along to their male partners, friends, and peers.
Please feel free to post questions or issues you would like our panelists to address in the comments section. Some to get us started:
- How are domestic responsibilities usually divided in an average dual-working parent family?
- What does a day in the life of an “equal parent” look like?
- Can Equally Shared Parenting really work? Is it realistic where one or both partners are lawyers? What kind of lawyers?
- What are the most important and overlooked care-taking issues people should discuss before having children?
We’re looking forward to what should be an interesting and provocative discussion.
Yale Law Women Conference Co-Chair
Yale Law School Class of 2009
In the coming weeks we will be inviting several students to write posts
from their own experiences or about things in the news. The post below
is written by Josh Lee, a member of the Yale Law School Class of 2009 and a married father of two. Josh started and runs the Association
of Law Students with Significant Others, which works to make the law
school experience better for students with partners and children.
I expect working at a law firm to be hard on me as a parent. I suspect most law students who think about it share my expectation. Long hours and demanding clients seem almost like a right of passage, a necessary hazing ritual, for newly inducted associates. Other lawyer-parents have confided in me their sense that a diminished relationship with our children “is the price you pay for the big bucks.” They seem almost resigned to this sort of Faustian bargain. And even though I reject it, I confess it has a certain logical resonance: you get paid more, so you work more. But, I find this explanation for legal work’s abusive relationship with parents unsatisfying. As with many things in the law, I suspect the anti-parent culture of law firms began for reasons totally divorced from the ones used to justify it today.
My three years as a law student suggest the expectation that parents will sacrifice their children to their profession owes at least some of its vitality to the culture of law school. Law school does many things right, being unusually receptive to student-driven change and (in the case of Yale) minimizing the competitive pressure of grades and class rank. And like most firms, what obstacles law school does erect for parents are unlikely the result of a conscious effort to disadvantage us. Instead, the problem seems more like a sort of nonchalance with respect to the practical challenges facing “working” parents.
What does law school do wrong? It begins right after admission by closing the doors to students’ families during the various indoctrination events. What is probably an attempt to keep costs down and space up has the effect of foisting all the childcare duties onto the non-student parent. This, in my case, has a certain bitter irony since my wife is the one whose income currently foots the bill for my participation in these events.
Law school scheduling has a similar burden-shifting effect. It assumes (and is largely correct to do so) that students are 24 years old, single, and have no kids. So, when I arrived at law school with a four-month old and a full-time, working spouse I was plunged into a world in which writing instruction comes after 5 PM, student organizations meet after 6 PM, and most meaningful social events take place after 10 PM. There is no way for a parent to be a full-fledged citizen of that world. As with admitted student events, every choice to participate means abdicating my parental role, leaving all the responsibilities (and rewards) of child-rearing to my wife, often after a full day’s work at her own job. Every choice to withdraw means lost networking, camaraderie, learning.
Finally, there is daycare, or the lack of it. I have benefited immensely from Yale’s provision of daycare. It is convenient, well-staffed, high quality. It is also small, and very expensive, and not every law school offers one, even on those terms. Despite having only a handful of student parents, the law school cannot accommodate all of their daycare needs. Student access is limited because the law school holds out daycare spots as a perk for visiting professors, while the cost is driven up by rising lease and insurance payments the law school does not fully subsidize. When once I addressed my cost concerns to a professor, he chided, “You guys are going to make so much money when you graduate, we should double the cost.” It’s hard to ignore the irony of that statement at a school that prides itself on encouraging public interest employment. When it comes to daycare, that may in any case be a self-fulfilling accusation. The more expensive childcare gets, the more pressure parents feel to seek employment in “big law” rather than the non-profit, government, and small firm jobs that have traditionally been more accommodating to parents.
The upshot of all of this is two-fold. First, for the non-student partner, three years of supporting a law student with your income and more than your share of child care has a way of burning you out. When your income is essential to stay afloat for three years, it means you don’t have the luxury of taking time off to find a more satisfying career, of taking vacation or even the night off if work days get displaced by kids’ sick days. It means you need a break. For the student-parent, it means the bill for three years of leaning on your partner comes due just as three years of law school loans drive you into a career that could make it harder than ever to pay down the childcare deficit. Second, for all fledgling associates, it means by the time you graduate, the sacrifices demanded of you as parents by your firms will seem perfectly normal, even reasonable. Of course the firm schedules work and events without regard to family demands. Of course those events are “employees only.” Of course there’s no daycare. “You guys are going to make so much money… etc.”
How can law school improve the situation? First, welcome the partners and children of student-parents into the community. Many of them shoulder the greatest burdens of three years of law school, so it’s fitting that they share in the rewards. But more than that, integrating families into the fabric of law school life lowers stress, increases satisfaction, and changes expectations about how work and family can and should coexist.
Along these lines, law school should also tailor parts of orientation to student-parents. At Yale that means assembling a Dean’s Advisor group for them. New student-parents have a unique set of needs that would benefit from a support structure dedicated to developing and passing on the cultural knowledge of graduating student-parents. How do I find daycare? How do I balance coursework with raising a child? Where can I turn when I need to get out of the library and have child-friendly fun? These are questions the current randomized group DA system is ill-equipped to answer. And while the danger of creating a marginalized, student-parent clique is real, the orientation period is so short, that danger should not be overstated in the face of the tremendous benefits a change would provide.
As for daycare, law school should make its universal provision a priority. Every student today expects their school to have a cafeteria or a gym, even sports teams. But there’s no particular association between these things and “the law.” Law schools provide them because they make life better, easier, more productive for students. The same and more could be said of daycare for student parents. It’s true that this change would benefit a much smaller subset of the student populace than a cafeteria. But the immediate benefit to a handful of parents is hardly the only benefit. Like welcoming families to law school events, the presence of a daycare shapes expectations of work-family coexistence. Those who aren’t parents in law school will certainly want to benefit from that paradigm shift if and when they become parents in a law firm. And there is a way to effect this change without asking law school to foot the entire bill. Right now $25,000 will buy you naming rights to a Yale library carrel. Why not solicit a daycare endowment? In my professor’s words, we’re “going to make so much money when [we] graduate,” someone’s bound to want to put their name on that, especially when it makes their law school experience that much easier and more rewarding.
The economy is forcing some gender, parenting, and work issues to the forefront. A recent article in the New York Times is a veritable playground of issues that we will discuss at the conference. For example:
On average, employed women devote much more time to child care and
housework than employed men do, according to recent data from the
government’s American Time Use Survey analyzed by two economists, Alan
B. Krueger and Andreas Mueller.
When women are unemployed and looking for a job, the time they spend
daily taking care of children nearly doubles. Unemployed men’s child
care duties, by contrast, are virtually identical to those of their
working counterparts, and they instead spend more time sleeping,
watching TV and looking for a job, along with other domestic activities.
. . . .
Historically, the way couples divide household jobs has been fairly
resistant to change, says Heidi Hartmann, president and chief economist
at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
“Over a long,
20-year period, married men have stepped up to the plate a little bit,
but not as much as married women have dropped off in the time they
spend on household chores,” Ms. Hartmann says. This suggests some
domestic duties have been outsourced, as when takeout substitutes for
cooking, for example. And as declining incomes force families to cut
back on these outlays, she says, “women will most likely pick up the
A severe recession could put pressure on these roles.
Economic pressures often change responsibilities, and even self-image, in partnerships and marriages. Do hard economic times erase equality gains that women may have made in the home and in the office? Do they have to?
We can only discuss the problem, share stories, kvetch or despair privately, and negotiate compromises in our jobs, personal relationships, and other interests for so long before we realize that something larger must be done to address the institutional and social hurdles that have the effect of discouraging women from advancing in the work force. We must call for institutional change. Luckily, we have four experienced, talented, and outspoken panelists to guide us in this challenge.
Wendy Schmidt is a former litigator and presently is a Principal in the New York office of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP. In addition to her work in the Business Intelligence Services practices, Ms. Schmidt serves on Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu’s steering committee for the Global Retention of Women. She formerly served as the national leader of Deloitte’s US Women’s Initiative Network (WIN), where she developed programs aimed at the retention, promotion, and recruitment of women. Additionally, Ms. Schmidt is a member of the executive board of directors of the National Association of Women Lawyers, and is on the advisory board of the Women in Law Empowerment Forum in New York City.
Pat Gillette, a partner in the Employment Law practice group of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in the firm’s San Francisco office, is the founder of the Opt-In Project, a nationwide initiative focused on changing the structure of law firms to increase the retention and advancement of women in the workplace. She also serves on the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, a cross-industry group engaged in developing practices to retain women and people of color in the workforce.
Mona Harrington is a writer on the subject of social and professional issues produced by the transformed roles of American women. Most recently she has engaged in research, analysis and advocacy of public policy on work-family issues. As Program Director of the MIT Workplace Center from 2001 to 2008, she directed surveys on career decisions and attrition rates of women and men in Massachusetts law firms and co-authored with Helen Hsi the resulting report, “Women Lawyers and Obstacles to Leadership” (Spring 2007). She also organized a national conference of Women’s Bar Associations and co-authored its report “Advancing Women in the Professions: Action Plans for Women’s Bar Associations” (June 2007). Ms. Harrington’s books include Care and Equality: Inventing a New Family Politics (Knopf, 1999) and Women Lawyers–Rewriting the Rules (Plume/Penguin, 1995).
Mary Ann Mason is Professor and Co-Director, Center, Economics & Family Security at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. Her recent works have focused on working families, in particular the issues faced by the surging numbers of professional women in law, medicine, science and the academic world. Her most recent book (co-authored with her daughter Eve Mason Ekman) is Mothers on the Fast Track: How a New Generation Can Balance Family and Careers (Oxford 2007). From 2000 to 2007, she served as the first woman Dean of the Graduate Division at UC Berkeley. During her tenure, she championed diversity in the graduate student population, promoted equity for student parents, and pioneered measures to enhance the career/life balance for all faculty. Her research findings and advocacy have been central to ground-breaking policy initiatives, including the ten-campus "UC Faculty Family Friendly Edge."
We know these panelists will spark a thoughtful and engaging discussion. If you are interested in this topic, let us suggest a few articles and links to get you started:
We would love to know your thoughts before the conference begins. Let’s get the conversation started:
- Does the rigidity of the billable hour affect women’s professional advancement differently than men’s? Or is this just one application/example of how employees with responsibilities outside their work life must have some flexibility in managing both?
- How can we learn from other professions that have tackled retaining women in the workforce? What unique challenges does the legal profession add to the mix?
- How can women work to shape the policies and structure of their workplaces? How can women work with men to change the discussion from one that is women-centered to one that is worker-centered?
In an Op-Ed in today’s New York Times, Stephanie Coontz writes that “[p]arents today spend much more time with their children than they did 40 years ago.”
“The sociologists Suzanne Bianchi, John Robinson and Melissa Milkie report that married mothers in 2000 spent 20 percent more time with their children than in 1965. Married fathers spent more than twice as much time.
A study by John Sandberg and Sandra Hofferth at the University of Michigan showed that by 1997 children in two-parent families were getting six more hours a week with Mom and four more hours with Dad than in 1981.”
And this despite women’s greater presence in the workforce. So where is the extra time coming from? From “shortchanging” adult time – time as a couple and time with friends.
Koontz goes on:
“Couples need time alone to renew their relationship. They also need to sustain supportive networks of friends and family. Couples who don’t, investing too much in their children and not enough in their marriage, may find that when the demands of child-rearing cease to organize their lives, they cannot recover the relationship that made them want to have children together in the first place.”
Fortunately, children actually might not want to be spending all those hours with their parents.
“Indeed, the researcher Ellen Galinsky has found that most children don’t want to spend as much time with their parents as parents assume; they just want their parents to be more relaxed when they are together.”
Lots of great ideas here-- you should check out the whole thing!
Yale Law Women Conference Co-Chair
Yale Law School Class of 2009
Nancy Killefer’s “nanny tax”-related withdrawal has brought to the surface some interesting and recurring questions about working women and domestic help. Emily Bazelon discusses the possibility of a tax screw-up double standard:
“When Nancy Killefer withdrew her nomination for chief White House performance officer this morning over unpaid nanny taxes, I got outraged e-mails screaming double-standard. Tim Geithner gets away with his tax mess-ups, which included a nanny-related screw-up, but Killefer doesn't? And what about Tom Daschle and his chauffered car?
But now Daschle's nomination is sunk, too. Is that evenhanded enough for us? Does it matter that Geithner's nanny tax troubles were of a pretty minor and technical variety (his kids' baby-sitter overstayed her visa for a short period)? And did Geithner just get lucky because his confirmation came first? Or is Kilefer's [sic] fate proof that unpaid nanny taxes trip up women seeking higher office more than men?”
Eve Fairbanks thinks it’s all “timing, timing, timing.”
What do you think – double standard or just bad timing? Should it matter that Killefer owed under $1000 ($298 in employment taxes and $600 in penalties) while Daschle owed $140,000 and Geithner $31,000? What does this say about the state of working women today that that this is the same debate we had in 1993 about Bill Clinton’s first attorney general nominee Zoe Baird, who withdrew her name because of “nanny tax” issues?
Yale Law Women Conference Co-Chair
Yale Law School Class of 2009
Welcome to the Yale Law Women “Opt Out” or Pushed Out Conference Blog!
Registration is now OPEN, so please register using the link in the side bar ("Registration").
We hope that the conference will bring together a diverse group of attendees and panelists, from practicing lawyers in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, to students, legal scholars, and anyone else interested in the “opt out” myth as it relates to the legal profession. You can find full details on the conference here and at the "Conference Information" link on the sidebar.
This is the first of many blog posts in the coming weeks leading up to the conference on March 27-28, 2009 at Yale Law School. We have an exciting lineup of student and guest bloggers planned, and we hope you will visit the site frequently and offer your comments and insight to this online discussion!
In anticipation of the conference, we have several goals for this blog, and we hope you will help us fulfill them:
1. Provide an online forum for attendees and panelists to learn more about the topics to be addressed at the conference and offer their preliminary thoughts so that we can foster a more thought-provoking and fruitful discussion once we convene together in March for the conference;
2. Introduce the specific topics that each of our panels will address at the conference, and get feedback from attendees about what they would like to discuss;
3. Provide background information about the limits inherent in our conference topic, and briefly discuss the important topics that unfortunately be outside the scope of this conference; and
4. Create a permanent record of the conference for future use by attendees, Yale Law Women, and the law school.
We hope you enjoy this blog, and we look forward to meeting you in March!
Yale Law Women Conference Co-Chair
Yale Law School Class of 2009
Welcome to the blog for Yale Law Women's Conference, "Opt Out" or Pushed Out: Are Women Choosing to Leave the Legal Profession?. The conference is March 27-28, 2009 at Yale Law School in New Haven, CT. The main web page for the conference is here. Registration is open! Please register today using our secure registration site. We especially encourage you to answer the survey questions that accompany the registration. We will be using the information in an anonymous and aggregate form during a discussion of what the face of the female legal profession looks like today. Accurate information about our attendees will make that discussion more relevant.
Please check back soon for in-depth discussions of the conference panels and guest posts by scholars and practitioners! We look forward to meeting you in March.