Female Lawyers: Career Track or Inevitable Mommies & Should

by Vault Law Editors | May 26, 2011

Last week, Vault’s CSR editor Aman Singh covered Glencore Chairman Simon Murray’s recent comments about hiring women—which he later retracted and apologized for—including this gem:

Do you think that means when I rush out, what I'm absolutely desperate to have is young women who are about to get married in my company, and that I really need them on board because I know they're going to get pregnant and they're going to go off for nine months?

Aman’s post ignited a series of passionate comments, including opposing perspectives from two female attorneys (see the original post for the full comments):

girllawyer:

. . . Over time, I've watched my peers get married, have children and quit their jobs . . . a good friend of mine who worked for a relatively small business confided to me while she was on her (generously paid) maternity leave that she had no intention of returning to work . . . I find this infuriating. I want to be viewed by potential employers as a potential asset, not a waste of time. . . I would like to suggest that , instead of demanding that employers give more leave or that society get less sexist, how about if young women get serious about their careers already? Or take a temporary position. Or don't get started at all. Just stop ruining it for the rest of us.

The Female Mystique: (in response to @girllawyer)

I am a female attorney as well and a stay at home mom. I find it disheartening that you feel that the likes of me are spoiling it for the rest of us. If you want to bill your 2,000 hours a year and slave away for a partner who does not care much about it, it is YOUR choice. My choice is to put my child first and actually see her for more than an hour when I get home from work . . . Feminism is about choices. You've made your choice, I've made mine. In fact, you know who is spoiling the career options for whom here? It is YOU, and the likes of you. Yes, I am talking to you, the envious malevolent and mostly perpetually single and/or childless females in my former (and yes, every law firm has them) office. It was with this attitude that mostly female attorneys put down any other female who "dared" to get pregnant before "paying her dues" to the firm. This slavish attitude and anti-feminist mind-set has not only made my pregnancy in the firm a nightmare, it has also made me want to quit and never come back . . .

girllawyer:

I agree that feminism is about choice. I also agree that women who wish to stay home should do so if they can. The problem is, as I said, one of extrapolation . . . given that training a new employee can be expensive (it is very expensive in law practice), and given that most reasonable business owners prefer a return on their investment, and given the attrition rate of young female professionals, Simon Murray's statement about the risk of hiring young females is just a business truth. As terrifying as it is, I would be wary of hiring myself.

So what are female lawyers to make of this back-and-forth and of Murray’s statements?

As a young female professional who has toiled through three years of law school and years thereafter building my career, let me say this: I believe Murray’s comments were not only insensitive but also ignorant and unenlightened. Such remarks convey to me that he has only brushed the surface of a very complicated but immensely important issue that goes so much deeper than an assumption that women are inevitably going to be baby-centric.

Sure, some women leave the workforce to raise children—and others don’t. And in my opinion, there is no right or wrong decision regardless of what degree, experience, or smarts you have: family care is a personal decision. What I see as the bigger issue are the assumptions that women will and—in some circles—should be the primary caregivers. These are dangerous assumptions, and ones harm both women—who then are expected to shoulder the responsibilities of work and home or give up their careers—and men who wish to participate as caregivers. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: family is a people issue, not a women’s issue. Certain legal employers have made strides when it comes to flexible work arrangements, lengthy parental leaves, and daycare offerings. But the biggest challenge for legal employers, in my opinion, is tackling parenting as a person issue, dropping any assumptions or preconceived notions. This move doesn’t just mean offering equal parental benefits to all but accepting that both men and women may take advantage. Individual employers may not be able to change society overnight, but we have to start somewhere.

Laura Sherbin, the SVP and director of research with the Center for Work-Life Policy put it well: "both parents must have the same options of flextime and maternity/paternity leave. Once we remove this separation of benefits and assumptive roles, then we can really have a conversation."

What do you think?

Source: Guardian
Survey: Do Women Have Real Choice in Today's Workplace?

Read More:
Young Female Employees: A Risky Investment?
The Risk of Young Female Employees in the Workplace: A Response
BigLaw, Mommies & Maternity Leave: Benefit For All or Only Those Returning?

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Filed Under: Law


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