When I was an associate, I would regularly put in 13-14 hour days and working on the week-ends was the norm. I remember that when I was an associate, I left the office one day at 6:30pm, having arrived just at 7:00pm and a partner commented, “Early day home, huh?” I always felt that I was not giving enough, which was draining and took a toll on me. For a variety of reasons, I changed firms, and made it my goal to become partner within a certain amount of time, which I achieved. Again, I put in long hours because both my husband and I had decided to make work a priority so that we would not have any regrets when we decided to expand our family.
And then we were fortunate enough to expand our family and with that decision, moved out of the City and into the suburbs. My commute was now done by train and I was on a strict schedule, given that my husband was away with work and I had to be home to resume childcare. I was in the office everyday by 8am, but had to leave at 5pm to catch my train. And everyday, I felt like I had to sneak out, so as not to draw attention to me. Again, it was exhausting – that weight of guilt and that feeling that you were letting everyone down.
And so for a variety of reasons, I move to a firm closer to home. And still, I am one of the first lawyers in the office, but I try to be home every night for 6pm, so that I can spend a few hours with the kids, before they go to bed, or take them to their activities. And still, one day, one of my partners made an off the cuff comment, that I was usually out of the office by 5:30pm, as if keeping track and noting that in contrast, others were usually here after I left. Of course they are- because they usually arrive an hour to an hour and a half after I arrive. Makes sense. I know that logically, but the comment still stung.
That feeling that we, as women, are always being kept track of and being found less than, has remained a constant for me, not matter what stage in my career. I was recently excluded from a meeting because it was just assumed that I could not make alternative arrangements to stay longer. Really? Because when I need to stay until 11pm, without dinner, to deal with settlement discussions, I am able to do that. So not sure of the basis of that assumption.
And in this day and age of technology, I have never missed responding to a client or dealing with an issue, whether at the office, at home or at various meetings. We live in an age where we always have to be available. So if all of those issues are covered, why does the scrutiny remain?
I will say that even though the law champions the rights of others, within its own sphere, it still remains very antiquated and backwards. Instead of changing the work model to adapt to technology, the work model has remained static and therefore, you see a lot more movement from firm to firm, because in this day and age, people are looking for a work environment, that rewards smart work and is attune to the fact that there are other issues of importance in one’s life, such as family, caring for aging parents, health issues (both mental and physical).
There is a monologue in the movie, “I don’t know how she does it”, where a character describes that when a man leaves to deal with a family issue, he is applauded as being a a great parent and that when a woman leaves, there is a feeling of, “not again”! That has not changed.
And although I still feel anxious leaving at 5:30pm to get home, I have no regrets. I work hard, but I chose to have a family and they deserve my best also. And as I work higher up the management ladder, I look forward to making the work place an evolving environment and not one that adheres to the mentality, if I had to do it, so do you!
But that’s just one Diva’s view.