There have been 136 Presidents of the American Bar Association. Five of them have been women, including this year's President, Laurel Bellows, who has caused quite a stir among women attorneys by calling the idea of work-life balance a "fraud."
When asked in a recent interview how women lawyers can "go on vacation or take a break to spend time with family" - how they could achieve "work-life balance" Bellows said the answer was "easy."
It's "not achievable."
Adding fuel to the fire, Bellows went so far as to call "work-life balance" a "fraud."
Addressing women of child-bearing age, Bellows warned that taking time off for children could all but destroy their careers - advice given to me and a substantial percentage of my law school classmates more than thirty years ago.
"Don't have children until you make partner," we were advised. "The firm will assume you're not serious about your career." Instead, my husband assumed I was not serious about our marriage. By the time I was eligible for patnership, seven "apprentice" years had turned to ten and I was single.
Not wanting young women lawyers to make the mistakes I did (make new ones, please!) I've been working with hundreds, thousands, of women who have dedicated their time, energy, experience and wisdom to removing the institutional barriers that keep women out of equity partnerships and circling the drain of the wage gap even when they manage to capture the gold ring of firm ownership.
This is a plea for Bellows to rethink her position as a leader not only of America's lawyers, but as a woman leader in a profession in which institutional barriers to women's retention and advancement are acute.
Work. Life. Balance.
Following the stream of commentary arising from Bellows' pronoucement (on which she's double-downed) it occurs to me that no one has done what every law student is asked to do on their first day of classes.
Define your terms.
Bellows, like many a rainmaker male and female, loves to market, to self-promote, to make a lot of green from every relationship she enters into. Read the article again.
She doesn't believe she's sacrificing anything. She likes her life and she either doesn't see the unnecessary barriers women face or she's chosen to ignore them. That's great for Bellows personally. It's just not great for the woman leader of lawyers where the professional wage gap between male attorneys and the few women who survive long enough to beccome equity partners is 60%.
n women's circles, "balance" refers to the ability of women to raise a family and have a successful career at the same time. When asked how she accomplished the feat that men are never asked to describe, at least one successful woman replied "I have a brain and a uterus and I use both."
Men are faced with "balance" questions as well. They're just not assumed to have them.
Many a marriage is destroyed and children deserted because a man succumbs to the kind of workaholism that the legal profession has valorized to the detriment of all its knowledge workers.
I've long asked why the best and the brightest, the most well-educated, are rewarded with wage slavery, no matter how well compensated that slavery might be.
This decision, then, to turn all of our energies to work, is a highly idiosyncratic and personal one. At twelve years of practice, my own life was seriously out of "balance." Balance to me did not involve children and family. I was suffering from a material/spiritual imbalance and laboring in the adversarial system did not help me find a way back to what I loved.
I was in a position more like the men than the women were because I had no family responsibilities and, for part of my career, was married to a man who had assumed most of the "home" duties of shopping and clearning, of picking up the clothes at the dry cleaners and managing our social life - the theater and symphony tickets, the dinners with friends, the vacations and rock concerts.
There was, of course, institutional and implicit bias around me and within me that I believe made my career slightly more difficult than the men's, but not much more difficult, because I'd essentially become a lawyer with a wife. Read Lawyer, Speaker and Author Victoria Pynchon's complete blog post for more on her take of the work/life balance.