Category Archives: Women in the Workplace

Working Mom – Making the “Right” Choices? A Look Back.

               Female lawyer working in office

A Chanukah gift from my sister arrived yesterday – a book called “Becoming Grandma” written by the TV journalist, Leslie Stahl. The timing of the gift was impeccable as my husband and I just returned from four fun, albeit diaper-change-filled, days taking care of our two grandkids while their parents spent a few nights away. I saw the author’s photo on the cover of the book – and was reminded of a draft blog post (see below) I wrote but never published. I’m still not sure if it was Leslie Stahl who had the seat next to me on the plane that day in 1990  – but seeing her photo prompted me to revisit the choices we make as working moms (and for some of us, working grandmothers.) And to think about the consequences of these choices.

Looking back, I still wonder if I made the right choices. Maybe Leslie Stahl or whoever she was on the plane wonders too?

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Life presents many choices – and one of them is whether or not to read a women’s magazine on a an airplane.

Some years ago when I was a Young Mom I took a late afternoon shuttle flight from New York City back to Washington, DC. I was returning from a business trip, traveling solo. A rare thing in my Young Mom days.

On the plane I found a seat and glanced to my right. My seat-mate was a Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person. I no longer remember her name.

Immediately I thought, “Here’s my chance.” 

I will make a casual but clever remark which will lead to an intelligent conversation with another adult (defined in my Young Mom days as someone who (a) did not wear diapers and (b) was not related to me by marriage –  a successful, talented woman, one who loves the news, all things media, as much as I did – and still do.

Or – I could just flip through the pages of The New Yorker magazine that I had brought with me on the plane –  and the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person will no doubt look my way, see me reading an Intellectual Magazine and initiate a thoughtful chat.

We would likely end up conversing all through the flight and as the plane taxied to the terminal, we would exchange business cards and talk about getting together in a week or two.

But being a Young Mom I had also brought another magazine on board with me.

Should I open up my women’s magazine and catch up on my Young Mom required reading such as: “10 Tips for Tantrum Free Toddlers”- OR should I stick with the New Yorker?

 I chose “10 Tips for Tantrum-Free Toddlers.”

About ten minutes into the flight the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person looked my way and glanced at the magazine on my lap.

By then I had moved on to “8 Exciting Easy Recipes for Week Night Dinners.” She turned her well-coiffed head and ignored me for the rest of the flight.

So I never got to find out if the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person and I would have hit it off. Probably not.

In my Young Mom days I always felt like I had dual personalities – a Mom at home and a Lawyer at the office but never the twain shall meet. We were advised to low-key the Mom thing if we wanted to be successful at work.

A young partner at my first law firm once “helpfully” suggested to me that I should reduce the amount of kid-related decor in my office.  Too many photos of my kids and their crayoned pictures sent the message that I cared more about spending hours with my family than billing time for my clients.

Why was it, I wondered (although I didn’t dare say this aloud) acceptable, if not outright admired, for men to show off their Dad sides? If a male lawyer in my office decided to leave early for soccer practice, he would be lauded as a “family man.”

Funny, isn’t it, how the term “family woman” doesn’t exist?

But if I had to do it again – reflecting now on 30 plus years of working mom status (where is my badge?), I’d probably make the same choices. The office display of family photos and kiddie-drawings. Leaving mid-day to go to the school play. Not missing a school conference.  Taking criticism from certain of my male law firm colleagues when they “caught” me by the elevators, exiting the office at 6:30 p.m. and asking – “taking a half-day, Nancy?”

And not feeling guilty about reading a women’s magazine on an airplane, no matter who had the seat next to mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Careers, Law firm life, Lawyers, Men vs Women, Moms, Parenting, Raising Kids, Reading, Women, Women in the Workplace, Working Moms, Working Moms, Working Women

Avert Your Eyes! a/k/a Wearing Shorts to the Law Firm

 

NLW LAwyer

 

Here we are in a typical, sizzling, steamy July in Washington DC. And I don’t know about you, but I like to dress appropriately for very hot weather.

Not everyone agrees with my definition of appropriate.

There was a strict dress code at the first law firm where I worked. A large firm with long gray halls, gray-walled offices and lawyers who often wore gray suits to match. Not a fun place.

Per the dress code, open-toe shoes were banned. Truly, this was in writing – ladies (lawyers and staff) must not wear open-toe or peep-toe (although I’m not sure if the term “peep toe” had been invented in the 1980’s)  shoes of any kind.

I suppose this prohibition was to prevent male lawyers from seeing a few female toes, lest they be distracted by toe nudity from the crucial business of billing a high number of hours to clients who paid a fortune for the brilliant advice we gave them.

On a particularly scorching summer day, the kind that our Nation’s Capital specializes in, several of us stood in a law firm hall discussing the weather. An older partner shared his view that when the outdoor temperature exceeded his body temperature, all dress code rules could be abandoned.

If it was over 98.6 degrees outside, he claimed we should be able to wear what we wanted to.  Sounded reasonable to me.

I tested it out. I didn’t show my toes – but my knees.

One Saturday morning in July, law firm management decided to hold a rare all-lawyer, morning meeting at a downtown hotel. It was an extremely hot day, the apex of an extended heat wave. So I decided to wear white shorts.

Perfectly nice white shorts, well-ironed, to-the-knee, Bermuda-type shorts with a stylish shirt on top.

The managing partner of the firm stood at the lectern and greeted all of us – perhaps there were 160 lawyers in the audience. He made a few opening remarks about the soaring summer temperatures – then launched into a critical commentary about the only person in the room who was incorrectly dressed.

Me.

All eyes now on the 30-ish young woman, seated in row 11, noticeable not for my legal acumen, but for my rule-breaking white shorts. I had distinguished myself as the only person – male or female (perhaps 14 out of the 160) – in the entire firm who chose to wear shorts on blazingly hot day – oh, the sheer gall of it.

I tried to look downcast, demure and embarrassed. But inwardly I felt as if I was in the right, and that the other lawyers had shown their usual sheep-like adherence to all rules by wearing long-pants or long-ish skirts on one of the hottest days of the year.

At my second law firm sometime in the  late 1990’s the dress code was tossed out in favor of “business casual”, an undefined term that men more readily latched onto than women.  Men could wear a standard uniform of hideously-pleated-front khaki pants and polo shirts and call themselves “business casual.” We didn’t have a wardrobe counterpart.

I tried to adhere to the standards of “business casual” for women.

Yet on another scorching hot July day, a day when the outdoor temperature was above my body temperature, I again tempted fate and wore white shorts to work. This time on a weekday.

Now my second firm consisted of 22 or so lawyers and a similar number of staff. It was not a formal place. Our scattered-across-the-US. clients made infrequent in-person visits.

Still there were apparel rules of the unwritten kind.  And even though I was a now a partner at the second law firm, I violated a rule by showing up in nice white Bermuda shorts.

The managing partner, a good friend, took me aside and quietly suggested that wearing shorts to the office, whatever the weather, was not one of my better ideas.

Looking back, now that I am now no longer down-town-office-bound on a daily basis, I wonder what led me to challenge the work dress rules.

I am more of a rule-bender, rather than a rule-breaker type. So it wasn’t defiance of authority that led to my choice. More likely I chose to wear shorts because it was the practical thing to do. I am known for being a very practical person. And on both of those July shorts-wearing days it was extremely hot.

Lower temperatures, more clothing. Higher temperatures, less clothing.

A guideline that still seems reasonable to me.

I doubt that anyone at either of the two law firms was stirred to dubious ethical action by the sight of my (then) knobby knees and (still) slender legs on those two days when I wore shorts. Yet that feeling of being scolded for a clothing choice still rankles.

As I write this, it is 98 degrees outside. We are again in the middle of a July heat wave. I am wearing shorts. Tomorrow I will wear shorts too. And likely the next day as well.

Not sure of the weather where you are – or of the workplace you might be in, but I say go for it. Nice white shorts are always flattering. If the powers-that-be call you out on your apparel, suggest that they avert their eyes. After all, they say that the legs are the last to go.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Law firm life, Lawyers, Men vs Women, Women, Women in the Workplace, Working Women

Job Hunting at a “Certain Age”: If Your Name Is Barbara, Judy or Susan…

woman thoughbubble

Once again I am tip-toeing into the waters of the job market. Picture a lovely beach with waves rhythmically rolling in. I am the nervous one at the very edge where the tide laps the shore, my feet hardly getting wet, trying to drum up the courage to wade on in.

When asked about my relationship with the job market, I would say – “It’s complicated.”

I worked full-time – lawyering – for 33 years. Then, as my loyal readers know, a 2x dreadful cardiac infection kicked me out of the action. One day I was a law partner at a downtown firm, the next day I was in the ER. It was a sudden transition.

The next phase was what I like to call “semi-retirement” – returning to my childhood roots as writer and sometimes even getting paid for it. Speaking out on young adult mental health and sometimes even getting paid for that. The “gig” economy, that is what it is called these days.

But the time between “gigs’ stretches thin, as many of you likely know –  and as much as I love siting on my deck, listening to the birds sing in my backyard and writing, I do feel obligated o search once again for that wonderful thing we call a “paycheck.” A part-time one that shows up regularly would be quite nice.

Back to the tip-toeing and perhaps the reason for my trepidation.

Last spring I send out a batch of job applications. Heard zippo back from all of them. Maybe something in my resume was not winning over the hiring managers?

Then a close friend of mine called my attention to one particular Want Ad and said – “This is you!” – I applied and was invited for an interview. Two people asking me questions at the same time;  it did not go well from the start. Bad vibes emanating from one of them.  You know how it is when you meet new people; sometimes you we just don’t click. And exactly 24 hours later I received a very short email of rejection.

I wrote about it here:

Was it Something I Said? – – Job Rejection at a “Certain Age”

Who wants to be told “No” when it’s your first time applying for a new job in over 25 years? Job rejection stings – at any age.

And while I do want to focus on my writing (moment of pride: I have finally written an outline for my novel. Yes, just an outline but it is a start), I’d like to be back among the work force some of the time.

But this time I am going to take a different tack before sending resumes out. I am going to stack the cards in my favor.

I have decided to change my first name! Because, face it, “Ageism” is not only alive and well, it is flourishing  – especially if you have a baby boomer birthdate and the name that goes with it.

Think about it –> when an HR person or recruiter opens your resume, the first thing they see is your name, right? And if it is Linda or Carol or Deborah, forget it. Your chances of making it out of the first round instantly diminish.  Because no one under age 55 has that name. Brenda, Diane, Pamela?  You are likely doomed.

Particularly if the HR person/recruiter is named Ashley, Heather or Jessica.

Amber (do forgive me if that is your name; it is lovely but an age-give-away), that nice young VP of human resources, is not a stupid person. She sees that you are named “Nancy” and she knows right away that you are about the same age as her mother. Which is not a good thing.

Who wants to hire their mother? Let alone work in the same office with her.

So before I start applying for a part-time job this time around, I am going to switch the name on my resume from “Nancy” to something that at least sounds 20 years younger.  I’ll start with the statistics kept by the U.S. Social Security Administration and pick a popular name from the late 1970’s or early 1980;s that will prove my youthfulness, in spirit if not in reality.

Hi, my name is Jennifer. Pleased to meet you.”

OR

Hi, I’m Amanda.  Here is a copy of my resume.”

OR

Thank you for interviewing me. My name is Nicole ____.”

Already practicing for that crucial first moment of appraisal when Amber, the VP of human resources meets me in person – and realizes (to her chagrin) that despite my millennial name, I am indeed the same age as her mother.

What do you say Diane, Ellen and Gail? Want to start a movement to fight Ageism in the older women workplace by disguising our real names?

I’m going with Nicole.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Baby Boomers, Communications, Email, Midlife, Retirement, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Women in the Workplace

Finding Your Own Lane in “Semi-Retirement”

stratton mtn

On a family trip one summer to Vermont we stopped at a familiar ski area to ride its’ alpine slide.

For the uninitiated, an alpine slide starts at the top of a non-snow-covered mountain where you sit on a sled, with a control stick between your knees, and guide your own ride along the twists and turns of a trail down the hill to the bottom.

The best part about this summer slide at Bromley Mountain is that it’s a triple track – described as “North America’s first triple-tracked” alpine slide, 2/3 of a mile long.

Triple Track means (duh) that each rider has three tracks to chose from. As I remember they were labeled – Fast, Medium and Slow – or maybe the three tracks had more clever names like #1 -“Speed For Teens”, #2 – “Active Dads” and #3 – “Moms Who Are Very Cautious.”

Whatever their designations were, I chose – no surprise here  – the latter, the slowest but steady track, kind of my life mantra, expressed on the side of a mountain. My husband and teenage son picked the faster paths, then whizzed down the mountain on their own sleds.

They were waiting for me when I arrived, five minutes later, having applied my own s-l-o-w sled’s brake multiple times as I approached every sharp turn and fast straightaway.

That triple alpine track was made for me – I like to be in charge of my own ride. I love the opportunity to choose my lane. If only life was like that alpine track.

Lately I have been veering from lane to lane.

One day I am happily zooming around with multiple plans and projects, volunteering, lunching with friends, going to meetings. The next I am contentedly at home by myself – along with our trusty terrier at my side – thinking that nothing is better than being able to sit alone in a comfortable chair (I know, don’t sit too long! bad for your health. I get it) – and write.

I did not choose to retire from my law firm at age 60 – that was an unexpected decision made for me by the cardiac authorities.  All of the articles on what to do to plan for retirement were suddenly irrelevant. I was plopped into it whether I liked it or not.

Three years have passed since then and I am still finding my way in what I call “semi-retirement.” Every day I either do too much – or I do too little.  Finding the right balance, the right lane has been tricky.

I would love nothing more than to sit at a desk all day and write. I’ve written a few short stories featuring (what else) witty and worried women in law firm settings.  Do I turn one of my favorite of these short stories into the first chapter of a novel? Or do I keep writing stories until I come up with a collection of them? Haven’t I set aside my childhood dream of becoming a published author for too long?

How ambitious those plans sound. And how self-indulgent. I now have the choice to spend hours doing what I love – while my husband is very much not-retired – (he likes his job, but loving it? you’d have to ask him.)

I  feel responsible to be productive. So some of what I write is non-fiction and earns a (tiny) fee, and I talk and write about young adult mental health and get paid for that too – and next fall, if it happens and I hope it will, I may get to teach a class about the state of mental health on college campuses.

Do these small paying “gigs” add up to giving me the right to stay in the slow lane with my writing projects?

Will the guilt I feel when I sit down to write ever subside?

I think about this as I veer from “semi-retirement” lane to lane and then back again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Baby Boomers, Books, Communications, Empty Nest, Husbands, Law firm life, Lawyers, Marriage, Men vs Women, Moms, Reading, Retirement, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Women in the Workplace, Women's Health, Working Moms, Working Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

The Gratitude Challenge of an “I Used To Be A Lawyer” Volunteer

NLW LAwyer

Is it possible to complain without whining?

Or as they say in the British detective novels I love to read, without “whinging.”

(The word “whinge” sounds just like it means, don’t you think? Perhaps we should campaign to adopt the word “whinge” instead of  the word “whine” in the U.S.)

This week – when I should already be in full-on, pre-Thanksgiving mode, I am airing one small, dubiously whinge-worthy matter before moving on to the gratitude part.

The matter in question: my present status as a Volunteer compared to my prior status as a Law Partner.

Now, do not misunderstand. I am thrilled to be semi-retired and able to volunteer regularly, but I do miss some aspects of my former life as a DC law firm partner.

A tiny incident this week at a wonderful non-profit where I volunteer unsettled me.

I arrived early and saw a young staff person scurrying around busily to get ready for the workshop.  I asked her if there was anything I could do to help, she said sure and handed me a big stack of charts fresh from the photo-copier.

Could I please arrange these papers in properly numbered order sets of 30 pages each and staple the packages together to distribute to the workshop participants?

Of course I could, happy to help. Truly I was. But then it hit me again, as I sat at the table in the non-profit’s meeting room, sorting through tall stacks of paper, putting them in numerical order, that I am no longer who I once was.

I am now a Volunteer. A Volunteer who collates. Assembles. Staples. Who does what is requested of him or her. No task too small.  Without “whinging,”  (except for here.) Volunteers serve to assist an organization to fulfill its’ mission.  I feel very lucky to be part of this particular group.

Except that sometimes being a volunteer makes me feel as if I have shrunk as a person.

This small-staffed organization, like another for which I regularly volunteer, depends on its volunteers.  I know these non-profits are very grateful for our participation. I also don’t expect to get a pat on the head every time I show up. I’m fine with pitching with the smallest of tasks that need to be done.

But I’m still dealing with that pesky shrunken person feeling.

Back in the “good old days”, the managing partner of my law firm relied upon a catchy phrase – each to his or her “highest and best use”  – in deciding how to allocate legal work.

One of my law firm colleagues was a terrific negotiator so she was called upon to handle deals. An associate who was an excellent writer prepared briefs. I was considered very good at client service so I built solid client relationships. Each of us to our “highest and best use” – an approach which made for happy (relatively) lawyers and satisfied clients.

It is a sobering recognition to realize as a semi-retired person that I may no longer be sought out for my “highest and best use”.

It is not the status of being a lawyer that I miss, it is that sense of being fully utilized for what I can offer.

A few years before I left my law firm, stressed by the demanding hours and pace, I met with a career counselor who specialized in helping law firm lawyers transition to other careers. (Can you imagine? A flotilla of unsatisfied lawyers supports this career counselor specialty.)

She asked me about my non-legal experience; I told her I had done a significant amount of volunteer work over the years –  on the board of my synagogue, chairing projects at my kids’ schools, facilitating a mental health group.

She suggested I try to become an executive at a non-profit. Important to be paid, she told me, expressing her strong belief that the most unappreciated people in any organization are its’ volunteers.

I never followed through on her career change advice. My cranky aortic valve forced an early instant retirement decision. Now I think of myself as a full-time writer and part-time volunteer. A volunteer who once was a lawyer, not a lawyer who volunteers on the side.

I disagree with the career counselor’s opinion. I do feel appreciated, needed, valued. Just in a very different way than how I felt at the law firm with clients who relied on me for advice. This is an adjustment I am still making.

It is up to me now – and me alone – to figure out my own “highest and best use.”

My legal training, my ability to issue-spot, to think critically and problem-solve will always be with me. And there are times when the volunteer work lets me bring my legal mind back from hiatus. But not always. That’s my new deal.

So I will now promptly stop whining – or whinging – about this small incident and get back to being thankful that I am able to contribute to the important work this non-profit does.

Part of my pre-Thanksgiving gratitude plan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Baby Boomers, Books, Careers, Law firm life, Lawyers, Retirement, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Women in the Workplace, Working Women

The Semi-Guilty Stage of Semi-Retirement – Women vs Men?

iStock_000044753522Large doors

My friend, Martha, recently retired as a top executive at a big non-profit. 36 years at one company. Her colleagues held a party for her, many lovely tributes; you were great, we will miss you, good-bye, good luck!

Martha’s last day of work was on Friday.

On Monday morning she did not have anywhere she had to be.

What to do now? – Both of us are semi-retired but hardly retiring.

We talked about how strange it feels to be at this new place in our lives. (It’s been nearly three years since I left my law firm and I’m still figuring it out) –  it is extremely odd to no longer have a required schedule after years of having a very firm one.

Then I realized what makes it so odd – think about it! – from birth forward, someone else – not you – has been in charge of your daily planner, your “life clock.”

When you are a child, it is your parents who get to decide when it’s time for you to eat, nap, play, do your homework, practice piano, apply to college. Then your life clock nudges you to study for exams, to apply for an internship, to get ready for the interview, to get a job.

Finally! You become an adult – yet the life clock hovers: Time to go to work, to get married, to have kids. Time to write that memo, to go home, to make dinner, to bathe the kids, put them to bed, and then it’s time to look at your email again.

Years pass, your kids grow up, they leave the house (hopefully), you grow older, if you have an outside career, that matures too – and then you retire or semi-retire voluntarily or not (in my case, the latter) – and suddenly your life clock hits the pause button.

For the first time ever YOU are now in sole charge of you!

You get to decide what to do each day – and when to do it. You could theoretically, as a newly semi-retired person, if you wanted to, and I don’t necessarily recommend this, spend every week day in your pajamas, eat cereal for breakfast and lunch, whiling away hours catching up on Netflix.

(Unless you have a spouse who is still in the workforce, who strongly suggests that since you are no longer working in an office downtown, that you might actually now have the time to cook weeknight dinners for him to eat when he comes home at night. The nerve!).

So much blank space to be filled in on your calendar in this new semi-retired stage of life. And I think the challenge of how to fill up these blank spaces is harder for women to deal with than it is for men.

Women – my hypothesis anyway – are uneasy having free time. In our minds there is ALWAYS something that we should be doing or that needs to be done. We are so used to seeing each day, work day or weekend, as an endless “to do” list.

When we had growing children, their “to do” lists become our “to do” lists (Sorry, but Dads, as involved in your children’s lives as you may have been,  you didn’t internalize these kid-related tasks as we Moms did, IMHO).

So when Moms semi-retire, we keep thinking – I must stay busy! I must be productive! I need to accomplish something each and every day! All day!

My semi-retired women friends are hardly slackers. They are busily consulting, planning, teaching and writing. They’ve started their own businesses, they take care of their elderly parents, they serve on boards.

But it never seems to be quite enough. We still tell each other – proudly – how busy we are. How much we have to do.

Do men in semi-retirement feel this nagging pull to stay on schedule even now that they are off-schedule?

Having recently done a significant amount of 100% non-scientific research, I can report that no, men do not feel the same way. The semi-retired men I know who recently left long careers are now happily playing golf, puttering in their garages, taking photography classes and starting new small businesses.

These men are far less burdened than my semi-retired women friends by the weight of “I MUST BE PRODUCTIVE” every moment of my semi-retired day.  They go off to golf on a Tuesday afternoon without giving it a second thought – they put in their years at the office, I deserve this! –  while for semi-retired women, even taking an exercise class on a weekday afternoon can feel like a guilty pleasure.

I suspect that all newly-semi-retired women continue to feel that giant tug towards the “to do” list that governed us all of our lives.

And yes, I know what you are thinking – you don’t need to say it – I agree that staying productive in semi-retirement is definitely a positive. I am not suggesting that those of us living in this transitional stage peel off into total slothdom, as personally enticing as that sounds some days.

But I do wonder when – if? – that nagging sense that we must stay productive each and every moment of the day will begin to taper off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Baby Boomers, Empty Nest, Female Friends, Husbands, Men vs Women, Midlife, Raising Kids, Retirement, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Women in the Workplace

As Baby Boomer Working Moms Leave the Workplace, Has Anything Really Changed?

Female lawyer working in office

BREAKING NEWS: August 1, 2015, headline in New York Times  – “Millennial Men Aren’t The Dads They Hoped to Be.”

Article Recap: Many young men initially plan to be in equal partnerships with their wives –  believing that when they become parents, both will continue to work and both will share childcare. A 50/50 life.  Then, when they become parents, they make the shocking discovery that the work world will not accommodate their idealistic notions of equality – so, facing less-than-family polices at the office, they are forced to revert to more traditional roles with Mom stepping back from her career, doing more of the care-giving and Dad doing less.

AND

BREAKING NEWS:  July 22, 2015, headline in New York Times – “More Than Their Mothers, Young Women Plan Career Pauses”

Article Recap:  The younger generation of women in the work force, millennial, define “career success…less linearly than their Moms. They are more likely than their predecessors (the generation of women who entered the business world in large numbers) to plan to scale back at times or to seek out flexible jobs. Fewer millennial women believe they can succeed in combining their careers and family life like their baby boomer Moms did (or tried to do.)

I read these two recent articles  and thought, whoa – is this really where we are now?

Despite all the gains working Moms supposedly made in the past 30 years since I was a young, full-time Mom/full-time lawyer – All of that hard work that we working Moms did to push for changes in our workplaces, so that the women who came after us could be successful? We thought we were paving the way for our daughters, but apparently not!

Do you hear sarcasm in my tone? Yes, you probably do.

We were among the first to think (idealistically) about “having it all” – We kept our given names when we got married, our husbands would be our equal partners (that part worked for me, thankfully), we would work full-time, share child care and somehow in the rosy haze of an uncertain future we would have “work-life balance” – a brand new thought in the ’80’s.

Then reality hit. Being pressured at both ends. Simultaneously feeling guilty about not spending enough time at home and not spending enough time at the office. Law firm life, I quickly learned, was not set up to accommodate working Moms. Like many corporate environments, law firm success is measured in increments of time. You are judged by the hours you put in, the more hours the better, even better if you are visible to as many people as possible while you are putting in those hours.

At my DC law firm everyone seemed to keep track of which associates were at their desks billing time like good little legal soldiers and which were not. The later you stayed at work (remember this was pre-internet so you couldn’t work from home even if you wanted to), the more diligent you appeared.

But one of the reasons I had two kids was to actually spend time with them. (silly me) So I insisted on trying to get home every night for a family dinner, followed by bath time, reading a book or two (or three or four or more) and eventually bedtime.

In order to have that family dinner, at the end of each work day I would sneak down the hall and try my best to slip into the elevator unnoticed. If I was spotted, one of my male colleagues, seeing me leave the office at the ridiculously early hour of 6:00 or 6:30 p.m., with bulging briefcase in hand, would invariably comment, just as I pushed the “down” button —

“Taking a half day?”

Ha, ha, hilarious.

These comments were not made by any of the older firm lawyers, the men in their 50’s and 60’s whose wives, for the most part, did not work outside the home, and thus could be (somewhat) excused for thinking that women should be happy homemakers and leave the tough office stuff to men.

No, the men who needled the few of us – perhaps there were four or five of us at my large firm  –  who had the nerve to try to be both lawyers and moms – were often our own-age colleagues whose wives mostly stayed at home. Our male colleagues bragged like it was a badge of honor about not seeing their kids during the work week, I leave too early and stay too late, sigh, they would say. And they wondered if we were going to stick it out for the long haul to try to make partner.  Would we drop like flies when we had our second kids? (some of us did.) Part-time work was frowned upon, the “mommy track” a stigma to be avoided and telecommuting not yet invented.

So we were expected to keep our heads down and work hard to be taken seriously. To be just like the men. And even in the 1980’s to look like them too. Yes, I was one of those women who had a closet-full of the requisite black, navy and gray, hideous skirted power-suits which I wore with decorous blouses, some of which came with big, soft, drapey bows to simulate the appearance of a man’s tie.

And we were also expected not to show off the Mom Thing too much. Not to talk about our kids and best not to have it look like we even had them. One helpful young partner actually came into to my office once and advised me to get rid of the clearly kindergartener-made pen container (gold glitter and macaroni stars) on my desk and the finger-painted drawing on the wall because it made it look like I wasn’t taking my job seriously, that I favored love of my family over love of the law.

Umm, didn’t I??

And yet when that same young partner left the office mid-way through a Thursday afternoon to catch his son’s soccer game, he was praised as a “family man.” But when a female lawyer took time off to watch her daughter in a school play, she was seen as “less committed.”

Have you ever heard the term “family woman”? Me, neither.

And oddly enough, after the computer entered our daily working and home lives in the 1990’s, things got worse, not better. Oh, good, we can now work from home turned into –> Oh, not so good, we are now expected to work from home too. To check emails when we got up and again before bed. To revise documents on Saturday afternoons. And on Sunday nights. Work time and family time blurred.

Flash forward to the 2015 headlines – yes, we have made some progress. Thankfully working Moms no longer have to wear ugly skirted-suits. We can put up as many kiddie photos in our offices as we want. Maternity leave is a given, not a request you have to make.

But still in many professions, the clock governs, hours on the job matter. Judgments made on the level of your commitment based on the quantity of your work rather than its quality. And part-time hours are still being interpreted as part-time dedication.

As a full-fledged feminist (go back to the archives, you can check the date of my original subscription to Ms. magazine!), I was and am all for choice. Women can choose to work or not to work, to stay home full-time or part-time, to take career “pauses” as they wish, to have kids or not to have kids. But then, as now, if you have a family and you want to have a job, women more than men are making the compromises.

So I think we have a problem – if this new young generation of working Moms are indeed choosing to step back from their careers solely because the workplace hasn’t evolved as much as our thinking as to gender roles has. We baby boomer working Moms did try to lead the way for you. (You’re Welcome.) But now we who blazed the work/life balance trail so it would be smoother once you got there, are starting to exit the workplace.

We did what we could. Now it is up to the next generation to push your professions to really change. It is long past time to get rid of the structural obstacles and the outdated attitudes facing women in the workplace. Are you up to the challenge?

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Filed under Baby Boomers, Careers, Law firm life, Lawyers, Men vs Women, Moms, Women, Women in the Workplace, Working Moms, Working Moms, Working Women