The Great Pandemic pulled us physically apart but in some important ways, brought us closer together
Not that long ago, my mother mentioned to me that I was very outgoing and loud when I was young. Yet leadership did not come naturally for me. Looking back, I think that as an Asian-American immigrant growing up in the eighties and nineties, I was subconsciously affected by the “model minority” myth. I worked hard, kept my head down, didn’t speak up, and didn’t rock the boat. Perhaps the gender norms at that time reinforced that. So after entering the professional world, I have consciously worked to overcome those tendencies. I have had to learn to push myself out of my comfort zone, while still staying true to myself.
Having a child about five years ago presented new challenges for leadership. In some ways, working from home during the pandemic helped me overcome these obstacles. Before the pandemic, I worked at the office late so I could work more and avoid the LA rush-hour traffic. Fortunately, I had good daycare options, as well as extended family members who helped with pick-up. But I had to choose between attending after-work events and seeing more of my child. During the pandemic (at least after the first year), remote work allowed me to work a full day and also spend more time with my daughter. Zoom also enabled me to join more boards and organizations, and attend more events.
I know I am lucky. Many women left the workforce during the pandemic because childcare responsibilities still fall predominantly on women. But with less separation between work and home, I believe that we as a society began to see others more holistically and gained greater appreciation of others’ personal lives and circumstances. I hope this change is permanent, and will encourage more women to become and stay as partners at law firms.
Leadership is an ever-evolving challenge, as we change as individuals and as a society. We — like leaders of many companies — are still trying to figure out “the new normal” and how to strike a balance between allowing flexibility, and maintaining workplace culture and bonds. One answer is that we need to be more intentional about creating opportunities to develop those relationships. To that end, when I was serving as the co-head of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee during the pandemic, we made it a point to meet and chat with every new lawyer via Zoom. Now, as I co-lead the Intellectual Property Practice Group, we are trying to re-engage every member by soliciting their ideas and involvement, by using surveys, encouraging more brainstorming and discussion at meetings, and bringing people together with casual social events.