Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hot Topic for Working Moms

There's a hot topic of discussion among the female attorneys in the community regarding whether working women (narrowly focused on women attorneys) are divided into two groups:

Category 1: Women who have a family and go back to work part time so they can dedicate more of their lives to raising their children; or

Category 2: Women who have a family and go back to work full time and are fully committed to their careers.

I know both types of women. And I spoke with a fellow attorney last night who has been practicing for 12 years, has had a family and has decided to work part time so that she can spend more time with her children. Noble and worthy. I fully respect her decision. But it returns me to the question, is she sacrificing her career? Is it okay for the industry to classify her as something less than the women in Category 2?

I also know female attorneys (and think I am one of them) who falls into Category 2. I work full time, bill the budgeted hours (or more), and continue to commit myself to serving the community in various capacities, even though I have to still make sacrifices so that I can take care of sick kids and attend school open houses. However, this returns me to the ever present dilemma that I am spending less time with my children. Am I somehow cheating my children out of something? Is it okay for the industry to classify me as something more than women in Category 1 and/or something less than my male counterparts?

Moreover, is it okay that we are all paid differing salaries (i.e. Category 1 is paid less than Category 2 and Category 2 may be paid less than male counterparts - not that this is necessarily true across the board)?

Furthermore, there is still the business aspect of the entire thing: Women who work and bill fewer hours bring in less profit - plain and simple. Should this failure to bring in a profit be reflected in their salaries? Should salaries be even across the board based on experience? Should salaries reflect your community involvement? At a fundamental level, every business must consider the value created by and employee and how much that employee is worth. I can't honestly say that I am as available (with regard to hours committed to work) as my male counterpart. Therefore, should I be making the same amount of money as my male counterpart?

Whereas my male counterpart can be at work every day of every week and work early and late, I am held to a daycare schedule. My husband or I have to pick up our kids at a certain time - no one else is going to do it (except in an emergency - which we have encountered). We have to stay at home when the school is closed or when our kid is sick. We have to take our kids to the doctor for regular check ups and doctor appointments. We don't have a stay at home wife who can handle birthday party planning, doctor's appointments, soccer practice, dance lessons, phone calls from the school principal or nurse, grocery shopping, picking up the dry cleaning. My husband and I split all these duties, but we both make sacrifices for our jobs and for our families. We both could potentially be more successful at work if we had the time and freedom to spend more hours there or more hours drumming up business, but instead, we choose to have a family. We both could spend more time with our children if we cut back hours at work. As it is, we balance the situation we've chosen and we still try to have our own adult time, together and apart.

Back to my male counterpart who either doesn't have children and/or a wife, or the male counterpart who has a house wife, I can easily see how a business would find that he creates more value by being able to work later, attend more after-work functions building more client relations, and by not having to take off for 6 weeks or more to have a baby. If you simply look at cash in and cash out - the male counterpart is a better choice, and it is difficult to justify choosing a woman to fill the spot when you could choose a man who is just as capable as the woman. So, I think it comes down to the fact that women simply must make themselves better than their male counterpart. Women must offer something that the male counterpart cannot, whether that be better connections, better customer service, better job performance, better attitude, better loyalty, or whatever.

I know that there are plenty of women out there who disagree with this appraisal of the workplace. Many women believe that we are entitled to have a job, get paid the same, and still take a paid maternity leave despite the fact that we will not bring in the same amount of profit as we would if we did not have to take a maternity leave. And, quite frankly, I think the entire debate sucks. It's a crappy situation, because I have to bear the children. My husband can't split that duty with me on that. It is my career that takes a hit. I am the one who has to take off 6 weeks and miss the opportunities that arise at work during that time. I am the one who will have to pass off my responsibilities so that I can exit the workforce to give birth and nurse my newborn. I am the one who will have to ease back into the workforce after the child is old enough to start daycare. Only women can take bear the child, thus, only the woman will bear the brunt of this sacrifice on her career. This will never change. It is a fact of life, and it sucks.

Thus, I am brought to the question, of how this affects raises, bonuses, and the possibility of promotion (in my case, making partner). I haven't been able to take advantage of all the opportunities that my male counter part has because I've missed weeks of firm business. I have not been able to bill or collect the same amount of money that my male counter part has. Even if I make partner, I will still have a family to raise and commitments that will arise outside of work. Luckily, I think that many males today share many of these commitments so the gulf between us after the childbearing years lessens, but there are still the curmudgeons of yesteryear who see things differently.

It is also interesting to me that women who have a family, whether in Category 1 or Category 2, are thought less of in either case. If you are in Category 1 then the senior attorneys may think, "She doesn't care enough about her career to practice full time and she'll never be fully committed to the practice of law [or fill in other profession here]." If, however, you are in Category 2, then the senior attorneys may think, "She is not a very good mother since she isn't staying at home to take care of her children." I've heard both of these comments phrased by "open-minded" men with a more positive spin such as, "I can't believe she doesn't want to be at home with her kids more." or "She has such potential as an attorney, I can't believe she wants to give up on how successful she could be by going part time."

In the end, it is what it is, and I don't think there is a solution. (But certainly let me know if you think of one). Women will always be the ones bearing children. I just think we need to support one another's choices: Category 1 supports the decisions of Category 2, and Category 2 supports the decisions of Category 1, and male counterparts recognize and support the sacrifices that Categories 1 and 2 make for their families and careers. (Oh, and I would add (while I'm on my soapbox), please don't judge another person for choosing Category 1 or Category 2. We're all in this together. I personally don't think I would be a good stay at home mom, so Category 2 is my choice. Others may be kick-ass stay at home moms on a full time or part time basis - and I tip my hat to you and respect you and your ability to do that for your children.)

Sorry for the novel, but I've been engaged in this discussion multiple times in the last week, and obviously more than that throughout my career as a working mom. I'd love to hear your thoughts. There's plenty of debate in this topic.


Mary said...

This is not just an issue for attorneys. I have seen it in retail sales, the financial industry and now in executive search.

I have faced less career opportunity in sales when I had my first child, and I returned to work when she was 4 weeks old as I worked on commission. My bosses were genuinely dissappointed when I could not work a twelve hour day on my feet when I was 8 1/2 months pregnant - even when I worked an extra day a week to make up the time.

I watched women make the choice to join Category 1 or 2 in the financial industry and watched both women and men judge their decisions, regardless of the choice made.

In executive search, I have watched our most senior women make the choice to work part-time, and regardless of the amount of money they bring in, there is definitely a perception that they are not as valuable. Then there are the women in Category 2 who feel that the women in Category 1 are impacting the opportunities for all women in the workplace.

I also think that women do have to work just a bit harder. But it helps when you have a job that is quantifiable - no-one can argue with revenue brought in.

It is a catch 22. Thank goodness for the forward thinking men we love. If it weren't for Richard, I don't think I could do it.

Theresa said...

Yes, I totally agree that this issue is not limited to the legal industry. It just happens to be my experience. I think that men are definitely more progressive, but we have to take it one day at a time.

Joan said...

You bring up some good points. I have to say that my position has been somewhat reversed as I usually have made more money than Vernon since he was laid off in San Antonio. Even then we were matched pretty evenly on the income. It does seem crazy that I had to save all my Paid Time Off (PTO) or Time Off With Pay (TOWP) or vacation for the event such as having a child. Then sacrificing days without pay for the times that either I or my child got sick. One of Michelle Obama's issues is equal pay for women who on average make 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes. Even in nursing, I see the male nurse with lesser experience making more money than the single mom who has more experience. It also happens that the lesser paid nurse is the one who is teaching/mentoring the better paid newbie. I also see nurses who have been working years and make two-thirds, thats right, 2/3 of the wages of a new hire. Then we have to grouse about not having any nurses coming up through the ranks to replace the baby boomers who will retire in the next 5-10 years. Who will take care of the sick people? I digress.
I did have the opportunity to stay home when we were in Kansas. I lasted 3 months and I was the most OCD mom ever. Rigid planned days to make the most of both my children's time and talents and my time. A cleaner house you'll never find. And when we moved back to Texas, My children begged me to go back to work. Was it because Mom was driving them crazy or because they missed all their activities and friends as daycare? Don't know but I think we were all happier when Mom went back to work.
I did enjoy when Vernon has been home, he is a much better homemaker than I. And since he does most of the bookkeeping it really worked out well. If I could make enough money to let him stay home now I would do it in a heartbeat. I have found that as the kids get older, I am needed more than when they were in elementary school. The homework (as discussed previously) is tougher and more demanding of a parents involvement. I find that working full time works best for me and my family. It takes all kinds and I really admire those moms and dads able to stay home full time with children. I hope thay admire us.

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