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Episode 19 Transcript

Episode 19: Choosing both Motherhood and Career Success

Arivee: Hi, I'm at Arivee Vargas and I believe we're also powerful beyond our wildest imaginations. We have the ability to overcome the fears, self-doubt, negative beliefs. And all the other roadblocks that hold us back from having the life and career we really want and deserve.

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That's why I created the Humble Rising podcast. I want to help you get clear on what a joyful and fulfilling life and career looks like for you and help you go after it with all you have. Each week we'll talk to badass inspirational woman of color sharing their journeys. Think of them as your mentors. We’ll dig into their successes, failures, challenges, the different shifts and pivots in their careers and personal lives, and so much more.

Lead with actionable strategies for making your own shifts in your life that gets you to where you want to go. And help you become who you most want to be, be inspired, get motivated, and get ready to rise. This is the Humble Rising podcast.

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Arivee: On June 29th, 2021 The American Bar Association Journal published an article by a former law firm, partner and career counselor entitled Are Women Lawyers paying enough attention to upward mobility. The title alone should tell you enough, but this article essentially blames women lawyers who are mothers for their under representation in the legal profession and firms in particular as they move forward in their careers, the premise is essentially that lawyer moms are holding themselves back and derailing their own careers when they become moms. Before I get into my thoughts about the article. Many other women I've been speaking to about this since this piece was published, have perspectives on this too. We may have different angles for coming at it, but I have yet to meet one woman who agrees with the archaic and negative stereotypes and assumptions the gross journalization and inaccuracies in this article I talked to countless women who are lawyers at firms who have children or want to have children. These are women who are first year associates, mid-levels, senior associates, partners. I'm talking about a full range of women, including women who aren't at firms at all. I'm also a former big law attorney, so I'm providing my perspective as someone who became a mother while at the largest law firm in the world who knows women partners struggling, the professional in the personal and who talks to women about their challenges, their experiences, their fears, in my capacity as a friend, a mentor and a coach, you know, I had planned a different episode for this week podcast, but one of my purposes on this planet is to empower women. Particularly first generation of women of color professionals, including lawyers, many of whom are clients of mine. So, I needed to switch gears and share my thoughts here. I have a platform and I have a responsibility to use it to address how harmful this article is.

So, this episode is for two main groups of listeners. First, I'm talking to all of you working moms who are in the same kind of fast paced environment as a firm right. You don't have to be a lawyer I Speak to many of you, and I know your struggles, your challenges, what you want, and what you don't want in your life and your career, right. And the second group you know, to the extent you listen to this podcast and manage anyone who is a working mother or a working parent. And you read this article and you thought to yourself, see, I'm not the only one women don't care as much about their career when they become mothers, they are perfectionists, they don't want to invest the time in developing relationships with colleagues and other people, they don't want to invest in themselves and develop leadership skills. If you believe all of that which the author suggests or explicitly says in this article, I'm talking to you too, because the author here represents no one but herself. OK, so in this article, the author claims that women. “Lose focus” when they have children and they do not invest in or focus on their own career advancement and success, right? She says, “we quote, lose interest in socializing with colleagues, client development and attending firm social events” and that we don't “Take the Longview of our careers.” She goes on to say that we are, “our own worst enemies” and are “perfectionists” which gets in the way of getting our work out the door. She also says that as challenging as it can be for lawyer moms, we have to be willing to be team players and invest time in mentoring others, suggesting that we do not currently do that. And I'm according to this author, lawyer, moms “must understand that the choices they make in their personal lives, no matter how praiseworthy, can impact their professional upward mobility. They must make time for success in their professional lives as well as their personal lives” again as if we don't already do that.

So, the first thing I want to emphasize and drill home is that this author is completely out of touch with women lawyers today and working mothers today. She provides no research, no data, no studies to support these sweeping generalizations, these assumptions, conclusions. It's her opinion. But it shouldn't have ever been published by the ABA. Having children doesn't make working mothers lose focus. It frankly makes our focus sharper. We are incredibly efficient and we're incredibly effective. You can check out all the research on women leadership, including working mothers, right. Our children are often the source of so much of our inspiration. So much of our motivation and what keeps us going they become part of the engine that keeps us going. Our children really do give us reasons to show them what's possible, what they can be, what they can do, especially our daughters, right, long gone on the days of expecting the woman to do everything in the home and not have her career and have her own money. OK, let's be real long gone the days where women have to choose between motherhood and career. We don't have to do that. We make it work. And the way that works. For us and for our families and each situation is different. Each family is different, but the author paints this picture. As a woman, lawyers who are mothers was focused and we don't do the things that are required of us to further our careers. And that it's our fault that we aren't experiencing this upward mobility. She's ignoring the fact that law firms most law firms were never created or designed to ever consider, including women or working parents. The model for big law firms. Again, most big law firms, are based on the billable hour and what is valued is being efficient while building your time and working as much time as you can. Right. There's a minimum billable hour required if you wanna be considered for a bonus for that year, right? Law firms were not created for parents, male or female, in mind. It was created for the man who was the primary breadwinner. Think of the late RBG.

OK, in 1959, She literally was at the top of her class. I think she was tired for first in her class at Harvard Law School. She helped care for her husband as he battled cancer when they were in law school together. She had a baby, took care of her baby and got on Harvard Law Review. This woman could not get a job at any one of the number of firms that invited her for an interview when she graduated. She the best of the best cream of the crop, Harvard Law School. Hello, would have added so much value to any case. Provides excellent client service. But she was a woman, and she was a mother, and firms wouldn't allow it. Firms weren't places for women or for mothers. Men weren’t going to let women figure out how to be mothers and lawyers. That was so foreign. So, if there's a problem here, it's not that women don't care enough, don't invest enough in themselves or others aren't focused enough, or too much of perfectionist when they deliver their work, it's that firms where designed and they're rooted in a singular method of working. It's an antique waited way of working. And it's based on old values and old expectations. These are outdated. Sure, maybe things have evolved overtime, but clearly not enough, right? The way many partners at law firms function. And again, I'm saying many 'cause there are, there are so many exceptions here, right? It depends on the firm depends on the partner. It depends on the group. There's so many different factors. But the way many partners at law firms function is affecting people sanity, their mental health, their burnout. And to be clear, I worked with many reasonable partners and associates. People that were, I would say, I always say like normal people, reasonable people who had personal lives and were also well regarded at the firm. I see many people make this work right the personal the professional. So, we have to remember that your experience at a law firm or any workplace is directly affected by who you work for, your manager or boss is a huge factor in your experience and at law firms, the partners and the senior associates. Or mid-level associates depending on your level. The people that you work for determine your experience that you control your experience. They literally control it.

For instance, I worked a lot with two partners and my previous law firm who always loved around 5:30 to eat dinner with their family. Guess what I left around then too? And you know what I learned? That they value family. They also value work. They were trial lawyers, but they also valued their family. I mean, excellent fathers cause they were men. They were not women. OK. They may have logged on later in the evening. Maybe not. But their actions showed me what was permissible for me to do as well. They like to 5:30 or six o'clock. I was like, got it. I can leave at that time to. Remember these were men, not women. OK. In fact, most women partners I knew at law firms were at the top of their game and made career and family work in their own unique ways. I never. Never looked at them. And thought, oh, they're not focused, they don't want it. They're not investing in me. They're not investing in other people. Right. They were at their kids games, recitals and plays, but they also worked really hard, were really smart or really strategic, knew what they needed to do to be successful. And they did those things at work. They made it work in a way that fit their lives and their values. And the way that works for their families. And I'll add, that had I wanted to go for partner at my previous law firm, had I wanted that route. And always, there's never any guarantee for that, but it would have been that firm because or it would have wanted it to be that firm because of what I saw the firm valued and how I saw the firm allowed people to have the professional and the personal life in a way that worked for them. So, this idea that women lawyers who become moms, lose focus, lose interest and need to understand that they need to invest in their careers. So, if we don't know that, as if we don't know that already doesn't reflect the reality of the modern, the modern woman lawyer and partner who are mothers at law firms. Women are well aware of how the game is played. We're not dumb. We know how it's played and they're trying to make it work in an institution that wasn't designed with them and parenting in mind. Perhaps we should continue to ask the question, what about the firm culture expectations and the way things are done prevents and deters women or becomes a roadblock for women and women who are mothers to become partner or advance in their careers. Just because the game is played a certain way for so long doesn't mean it should continue to be played. In that way, it doesn't make it right. It doesn't make it sane. And it doesn't make it effective or help the firm's bottom line. That brings me to the other part of this article that's so harmful.

It perpetuates archaic. I mean archaic, so outdated and sexist stereotypes and expectations of women in the workforce and working mothers. And childcare responsibilities in a household. So, she says, the author says that “Although many lawyer moms may have spouses and mate to help ease their burden at home, little children typically look to mommy for one-time meals, rides to school before the morning bell rings, checking homework and general comfort and care, and that is especially true when Daddy isn't a busy professional too.” OK. I'm gonna say it. She's talking to a different generation. What about homes or the woman is the primary breadwinner or same-sex households? I know plenty of women, partners and executives where their husbands are primary caregivers of their children, families had nannies and au pairs to help with childcare and household duties. That's how a lot of women I know have made it work, or they don't have that, and they make it work another way. Right. They use a different approach. What about where both parents work and pitch in and wanna be present? I'm calling this out because it needs to be said. We live in a time where men and women who become parents, most of them actually really wanna be equal partners. They want to be equal partners and parents. And where women who have these demanding careers expect their husbands to step up in that way, that's the deal. We have kids. You help and I help. It's not all on me. We live in this time where we both want to have success as partners. We want to have success both at work and we want to be great parents. We want to be present parents. There is just not one single right way to tackle personal on the professional or to tackle household responsibilities or to tackle childcare. But since this article mentioned that men can help “ease the burden of childcare duties when he's a busy professional too.” I'll offer this. Do you think men come back to work after two weeks? We just typical writing a law firm or even less. But do you think men come back to work after two weeks after their baby is born? Because they want to? Do you think they want to come back after two weeks? Go ahead, go ahead. Ask someone if they'd come back, or if they'd take their entire paternity leave. No. Right. It's because you told them it's expected for them to only take a certain amount of time, or no time at all. You've sent that message, right? Maybe you didn't explicitly say anything, but you've sent that message. Even if you've said nothing, cause you say things like well, no one takes more than two weeks or six weeks, you know, no one really does that. You say that and then they feel obligated to come back early. They don't take their full leave. Do you know that babies, they don't sleep through the night for months? Do you know what that means? Men aren't sleeping either. They're in the same house usually, right. Like we have a newborn, they're usually not sleeping either. Do you know what a lack of sleep does to your brain and your ability to function? It deteriorates it. There's a ton of research on the effects of sleep deprivation. I will not go into that here. That could be like a whole podcast, but no, we've conditioned men to believe. I mean, no one takes more than two weeks. You can offer all the benefits you want and say we're family friendly. We offered all this paternity leave. But if you sent the message that, oh, you have a wife or you have someone who takes care of that baby, right, why do you need to be there? Like, what are you doing there? You're forgetting that times have changed. Men wanna see their kids too. They wanna be there with their newborn. You've just conditioned them to believe that it's not acceptable to do that. And to be a high performer at work, you don't have time for that. And you make them have to choose. And then when they ask for more time, like, no, actually gonna take more than two weeks when they tell you that you're confused, you're thinking, hey, they should operate the way that we've always operated, the way that I've operated. But things are different now, and you might lose really great talent because you think they can't hack it, but the truth is they can. They just may not want to choose work over their personal life the way they you see is necessary or the way that you do it because they know there's a better way. There has to be a better way. And there is cause they can do both, just maybe not working for you. And I'm calling this out because it needs to be said again. I wish I worked harder, said no one said no one. When they look back at their life at 80 or 90 years old. Research shows the number one indicator of happiness is relationships and connections with others. It has nothing to do with money or prestige or title. The biggest fallacy is that you cannot be a high performer in this case, an excellent lawyer who clients refer to others and who's well regarded within the firm and in the community and be a mother. The biggest fallacy is that you can't have. Both, but you can. The thing is what it looks like will be different from person to person. There isn't a right way or a wrong way to do this, but the idea that women lawyers who are moms don't know what it takes to advance that they don't often take the Longview “Longview” and they aren't doing what they need to do, but they sit back, they lose interest, and they lose focus when they become moms. The stop investing in their own development, the stop investing in developing client relationships, they stop investing in more junior lawyers is a false narrative that we need to reject, we need to denounce the narrative. Women at firms know their work has to be beyond excellent. The author calls it being a perfectionist, we get in our own way. We're all perfectionists. All of us are perfectionists. I say the environment has conditioned and told women and women who are moms that they need to outperform at that level every single time to have a legitimate shot for opportunities and visibility to show that moms can do this work at that level. There's always this this proving they have to do. They have to prove they can do it so people like those who write articles like this one don't say. See. See you moms. You don't think about your upper mobility enough. You aren't paying attention to that enough. You aren't doing what you need to be doing enough. You don't invest enough of your time in your own career. This is exactly the fear realized. This is the insecurity realized, and the blaming is coming from another woman. Women lawyers who are moms may make other choices in light of the environment in which they operate, but they know how to advance. They know what's required. They may just not want to do it the way it's always been done. They want to make other decisions because it's not the woman's fault, it's not the working parents fault. The fault rests with the firm. The firm has to change. And when I say the firm I, I mean there are firm, structurally where you. The institution itself must change; right leadership has to change their view has to offer different kinds of ways of working. And then there's the case teams. You have your deal teams, you have the partners, you have the associates. So, they're all different ways of thinking about this, but. When I say the firm, I mean something that's much more complicated than just the firm and the firm leadership, right? But it is on the firm, those teams, the partners and Senior associates, everybody who's who's involved here to change into law for personal and professional success. It is time. It is time. So, ladies, it's not you. Keep doing whatever you need to do to be the present and committed mothers you are and the professional badassess you are. You were doing your thing your way. Let no one judge it. Do not allow anyone. To tell you how to live your life to be a lawyer, to be a professional. What's a value? What's a want? What is acceptable to choose? And do not believe that you aren't choosing your career enough. That's a lie. The motherhood means you pull back on your career. It's a lie. Don't believe that. Remember, you're not limiting yourself. You're not holding yourself back. The system and the way it was designed never had you in mind. And is imposing limitations on you and other working parents don't believe anything to the contrary?

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Thanks so much for listening. Don't forget to subscribe to this podcast so you don't miss one single episode. If you want my biweekly doses of inspiration, motivation and coaching tips, click the link in the show notes to subscribe, and if you've asking yourself how to figure out that next step in your career or you're at a career crossroads, I've got a career clarity guide just for you. Check out the show notes for the link until next time my friends keep stepping into hung credibly powerful. You are. You got this.

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