Hello, folks, I’m Lawyer Mama, pinch hitting for Pundit Mom today.
Last weekend at BlogHer, I had the privilege of meeting PM and at breakfast one morning we had a fascinating discussion about the law, law firms, and balancing work and motherhood. (As you may know, PM is a recovering attorney, having wisely abandoned the law in favor of journalism.) Well, really our conversation was a rant on my part, but Joanne humored me nicely. Our talk, however, reminded me of one of Joanne’s recent posts and sparked the inspiration for my topic today
A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a senior male associate in my firm, a young (first year) female associate, and a summer associate (law student). For some reason, the topic of conversation shifted to advancement to partner within the firm. My male colleague informed us that he felt women were failing to “self-market” themselves within the firm, thus hurting their ability to work with key clients and hurting their chances for making partner. His examples? The failure of many women to attend the Friday afternoon Happy Hours for attorneys at a club in our building and the firm’s yearly out of town golf event.
At first I was politely listening to his concerns, but then I was confused. I explained to my male colleague that, while I did not play golf and would never be attending such an outing, I did make it a habit to attend Happy Hours when my schedule and my family allowed. My confusion stemmed from the fact that I had never noticed a failure to obtain good work from key clients in the past and that I feel I have a good working relationship with all of the partners in my department.
Upon closer questioning, my male colleague informed us that he and other male associates felt that “the women” were hurting themselves by not hanging with the guys and that we did so at our own peril. At that point my confusion passed into anger because I realized that while he was saying “the women,” he was actually referring to “the mommies.” Moreover, he was telling these two young women with us, one an engaged law student, the other an unmarried first year associate, that they could not be mothers and partners, or even very good lawyer.
For lack of a better way to express my feelings, that pissed me off.
I brought up an incident at a Happy Hour where another male colleague had pointedly ignored his ringing cell phone because it was his stay-at-home wife (caring for toddler twins all day) calling to find out when he would be home. I would k.i.l.l. my husband if he were so cavalier about my feelings and free time. Kudos to his wife, she finally gave up and called the bar and, of course, reached her husband immediately. I guess it’s hard to get the female bartender glaring daggers at you to lie to your wife. But my point was, many of the men in our firm have wives who don’t work full time outside the home. And of those who do, guess whose career is considered more important? Guess whose free time is considered more important?
I cannot fault every male, or even every male attorney for this. I know there are exceptions to the rule. I happen to be married to one of them. But I quickly pointed out that women, even if they work, tend to bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities. If the children have to be picked up from daycare by 6pm on Friday, a Happy Hour isn’t going to keep me from doing it. And it angers me to think that there is a perception that I am somehow slacking at my job because of it. Clearly, even though I make an effort to internally market in my own way, there is a perception that all of “the mommies” are either slacking off or expecting special treatment.
In a post in early July, Pundit Mom brought to my attention a little known EEOC guidance document regarding how EEOC rules apply to workers with “caregiving responsibilities.” PM talked about this guidance document in relation to the so called “opt out revolution,” with professional women leaving the work force to care for families in increasing numbers.
The EEOC guidance document and its accompanying Q&A remind employers that there are some circumstances where discrimination against a worker who is a caregiver might constitute unlawful disparate treatment under federal EEO law:
* Treating male caregivers more favorably than female caregivers: Denying women with young children an employment opportunity that is available to men with young children.
* Sex-based stereotyping of working women:
o Reassigning a woman to less desirable projects based on the assumption that, as a new mother, she will be less committed to her job.
o Reducing a female employee’s workload after she assumes full-time care of her niece and nephew based on the assumption that, as a female caregiver, she will not want to work overtime.
* Subjective decisionmaking: Lowering subjective evaluations of a female employee’s work performance after she becomes the primary caregiver of her grandchildren, despite the absence of an actual decline in work performance.
* Assumptions about pregnant workers: Limiting a pregnant worker’s job duties based on pregnancy-related stereotypes.
* Discrimination against working fathers: Denying a male caregiver leave to care for an infant under circumstances where such leave would be granted to a female caregiver.
* Discrimination against women of color: Reassigning a Latina worker to a lower-paying position after she becomes pregnant.
* Stereotyping based on association with an individual with a disability: Refusing to hire a worker who is a single parent of a child with a disability based on the assumption that caregiving responsibilities will make the worker unreliable.
* Hostile work environment affecting caregivers:
o Subjecting a female worker to severe or pervasive harassment because she is a mother with young children.
o Subjecting a female worker to severe or pervasive harassment because she is pregnant or has taken maternity leave.
o Subjecting a worker to severe or pervasive harassment because his wife has a disability.
Some of the actions listed above may seem severe or obvious violations, but some of them were a wake up call for me.
While my firm has family friendly policies and management to enforce them, not all people share the egalitarian views of the senior partners in my firm. Frankly, that scares me. The senior male associate in my firm, convinced that the mommies aren’t partner material, may one day be the managing partner. Only by making family friendly policies a fact of work life will we begin to change improper perceptions about caretakers and begin to regain some much needed balance in our lives.
What do you think? In your experience, have caretakers faced more or fewer obstacles in the professional work force?