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Working Mothers – Perception is Reality.

March 8th, 2012 | Posted by Rebecca in Motherhood | Office Politics | Practical Advice
WE CAN DO IT!

The other day I was lucky enough to meet Susan at the birthday party of a mutual friend of our two-year-old daughters. During the 90-minute “safari” ride, we discussed our careers and I discovered that she is the director of sales at New Orleans most recently renovated and majorly hyped hotel. I mentioned that in my roles both at the law firm and as Legal Marketing Association city chair, we are always looking for great venues for events and that we should find a way to work together soon. It gave me energy not only to meet another working mother whose job I admired, but also to connect with a new potential friend.

Then she said something that made my head spin.

She asked how I manage to chair a group, work full-time, be a mom and, basically, still brush my hair every day. Belittling her own appearance soon after, she then dropped her bag and declared hopelessly, “I am such a mom.”

I’ve been struggling with this every day since we met. Her statement reminded me of a recent story on The Grindstone, which cited a 2009 study on perceptions of career-minded mothers:

“A 2009 study in the Academy of Management Journal showed that even in a company where men felt more pressure to juggle their job responsibilities and home life, the management team assumed women were having a harder time. Based on this assumption, bosses viewed their female employees as less suitable for promotions and increased responsibility.”

This is such an annoying statistic. Lindsay Cross writes that “these discussions can also lead to unfair prejudice in the workplace,” but she acknowledges conversations with colleagues concerning juggling, motherhood issues, etc., can be extremely beneficial for all of us. I couldn’t agree more. Because of what I’d classify as an “informal alliance” of mothers around me, I found the perfect childcare solution for my infant upon returning to work, the ultimate diaper rash fix (anything with “triple” in the name), and assurance that my toddler’s headbeating tantrums will soon pass. Sure, I could have done some Googling to research, but I trust these women and admire their careers. The confidence they have in their professional lives permeates into their methods as parents, and that’s why this network is crucial to every office environment. Why would we be held to a higher standard? Maybe because we frequently tap into our network to improve our processes in multiple facets of our lives. We have more answers.

This is why Susan’s comment has stayed with me. By denegrading herself as “such a mom” while she juggled her bags and toddler toys, she validated the idea that mothers struggle more than other women–or as Lindsay suggested–confirming the bias. I’d like to think we have access to invaluable resources and a common bond not found in our relationships with some of our childless peers, which results in “such a mom” being an positive thing. We all have moments where we don’t seem to have it all together, but I’d like to think we can focus more on our Chaka Khan moments then when we feel we’re failing, thus joining our management in holding ourselves to the highest standard.

In your office do you feel working mothers are held to a higher standard? Do you think they need to work harder to prove themselves?

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  • Heather Bozarth

    Great blog! I have to say it depends on the company. I have worked for a company that forced me to quit after I had my daughter, another that questioned my capibities of being able to run their operation because my daughter might get sick one day, but finally I found one that creates a great balance. I hate to say it but the first two places I mentioned were run by mostly men, and in my current position, both my bosses are also working moms. They know just where I am because they have been there. Maybe the difference is the ability to sympathize?

    • http://twitter.com/rebeccawissler Rebecca Wissler

      Thanks, Heather. It does always help to work with professionals that understand that balance.

  • Dan

    I completely agree that the stereotypes exist, and that it hurts both women AND men. I think it comes from the belief (which is wrong in many cases) that women are primarily responsible for chidlcare in most families, which leads to the assumption that if there is a lot going on at home, the woman will be responsible and hwer work will suffer, AND also to the assumption that the man does not need to alter his schedule to attend to family responsibilities because his spouse can pick up the slack. I think in most workplaces men feel presure to prioritize work over family, and those who do, are have their commitment to the profession questionsed.

    • http://twitter.com/rebeccawissler Rebecca Wissler

      Thanks for your comment, Dan. I think the issue at hand is, exactly what you stated, these “assumptions.” We’re uncomfortable having frank conversations–especially in an environment as paranoid as the law firm–about career goals with respect to family. I hope that as a new generation of professionals takes on leadership roles, we can address some of these issues head on, like being comfortable at the outset stating that even though I have a child, I’d like to be on the partnership track. Or, on the opposite end, an attorney stating that they are committed to the firm and would like to be on track for an “Of Counsel” arrangement. Personal goals and priorities shouldn’t reflect one’s capabilities (or commitment) as a professional.

Copyright 2011: Laura Gutierrez, Rebecca Wissler. The Legal Shakeup.
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