Guest Blogger: Phoebe Taubman
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.