“Women are going to have babies.” While this statement came from one of my dearest friends, a fellow working mother, it is something I say to myself, to candidates and to clients on a regular basis. It’s true and so is that fact that many of these women, me included, intend to work in addition to raising a family. Importantly, this is a reality that often stirs a lot of conflicting emotions and presents challenges for those that choose to be both mom and rock star lawyer (or other professional). Being a working mom should not feel like a choice between career and family, having to sacrifice one for the other. Instead, women should be seen for their skills and abilities, and employers should be vying for the best talent, particularly those that bring a diverse perspective to the table. But how can employers make the workplace both a welcoming and supportive environment where women can thrive in their professional and personal lives?
The first thing law firms and legal departments need to understand is that getting the best work out of a working mom goes beyond offering the best compensation package. And truthfully, this isn’t just about women—family matters to men, too. Women and many men who either have young children or foresee having young children are factoring in much more than compensation when they entertain a job offer.
For starters, women are looking for attractive leave policies. I have had multiple women candidates in the past several years who have asked to see leave policies before accepting a job. They scour the policies, set up calls with human resources and will decline an offer if they do not feel the employer has a great policy. An attractive leave policy gives a parent ample time following the birth or adoption of the child to heal physically (if necessary), bond with the child and get used to a new role as a parent. Moreover, an attractive leave policy will compensate a parent while she or he is on leave, removing the stress of loss of income, and allow the mother or father to acclimate to her or his new life responsibilities.
Flexible working environments are also important. If a woman is expressing breast milk during the work day, does she have the time and space to make that happen? That’s critical for women who are on that journey. If her child gets sick and has to be picked up from daycare or school, does she have the freedom to do so without being judged? This scenario is stressful for all parents, and organizations that are understanding of this scenario are going to get much more out of their attorneys. Additionally, technology would enable most parents to catch up at home later that evening. Allowing employees the freedom to get their work done remotely and on their own time, in some instances, is key to getting the best work out of your team.
Having strong women in leadership roles in an organization is very attractive to other women (not just mothers). This reality is often indicative of an organization’s culture. If a woman sees other women advancing and being supported, she is more likely to feel like her career goals are attainable there.
Ultimately, employers really need to listen to their candidates when they meet them through the interview process. Does the candidate have concerns about a commute that could be eased with a partial remote work situation? Perhaps building flexibility into the work day would help ease a new mother or father back into the working world following her or his leave.
Women currently make up 35% of the legal industry. Women are going to have babies, and women are going to continue to be a part of the legal workforce. Working parents not only need supportive managers, but they also need supportive and safe work environments to do their best work. It’s not always about money—it’s about showing that the candidate is valued as an individual.. When a parent returns to work after having a baby, feeling like an employer “has her or his back” incentivizes her or him to do the same for her organization.
So, what does a working mother really want? She wants her organization to value her and support her both as a professional and as a mother. Employers will only be able to hire these top women if they adapt to the changing workforce and make accommodations to support these women.