As a mother of three who also happens to chair a department of a large regional law firm, I practice work-life balance every day. And it is hard. As illustrated by a recent study by the New Jersey Council on Gender Parity, it is particularly difficult for women to successfully maintain that balance in the legal profession, where success is often measured in billable hours. The Council reported that over 70 percent of survey respondents who changed employers in the last five years indicated their former employers did not support flexible work arrangements (FWAs) and work-life balance. How, then, do you truly achieve career success and family happiness?
Clearly, work-life balance does not happen on its own. Women need to be responsible for carrying out the work of their employers. Employers need to support their women employees. Ultimately, women need to be viewed as productive contributors to the firm’s bottom line for management to “buy in” to the concept that diversity and work-life flexibility are essential to the overall business case.
At Gibbons, our Women’s Initiative has been a driving force behind the firm’s policies and benefits that ensure women professionals remain accessible to clients as they attend to busy personal lives. These benefits include technology that allows attorneys to connect seamlessly, from anywhere, to the firm’s network, phone, and voicemail systems; emergency childcare; paid childcare leave for men and women; and a policy allowing reduced and/or flexible hours without impacting an attorney’s path to promotion.
Over the years, with the support of my firm, I have arranged my schedule to accommodate clients and family. I sometimes put in Gibbons time in early mornings, late evenings, or weekends, to be available for midafternoon softball games. At the same time, success means being committed and accessible to clients even during family events. It is not unusual for me to email clients during a baseball game. The work has to be done. Clients have to be serviced. I need to be a mother to my children. With support, you can do it all.
A workplace can support worklife balance only if it applies key best practices, such as ensuring flexible work arrangements are available to men and women, customizable to meet individual needs. Flexible work arrangements must be promoted and monitored and should include the necessary tools to ensure employees are successful in their professional and personal lives.