When I interviewed at Major, Lindsey & Africa, I was secretly six weeks pregnant with my son. I did not know I was pregnant when I sent in my resume or even when I scheduled the interview. I found out I was pregnant about a week before I flew from Heathrow to San Francisco for my first interview.
My husband and I were living in London at the time, and I was working for another search firm. But coming home to San Francisco—and hopefully convincing MLA to hire me— had long been the goal. The company is the gold standard, and we had been ex-pats for three years—it was time to go for it (and move home).
After a few days of interviews with the team at MLA, I got a call from the woman who would become my manager – I had an offer. I was thrilled, jet-lagged and nauseous (I blame that last bit entirely on the pregnancy). I wasn’t sure how to tell her that I’d love to join but that I would need to take leave after only being there a few months. The mechanics of both my husband and I leaving our jobs in London then moving back to the U.S. weren’t simple, and it was going to take some time before we could relocate.
Finally I scheduled a call with my future manager to discuss “a health issue” and, if all went well, to accept the job on the phone. I told her I was pregnant. Her response: “Kate, thank God! I thought something was WRONG. Congratulations! Tell me what you need.” I could not have scripted a warmer reception to the news.
I interviewed in March, accepted the job two weeks later, and started in July. My son was born on October 18. I took almost five months of maternity leave. Through the whole process, no one at MLA ever looked askance at my requests or made me feel like anything less than a fully appreciated team member. The optics of showing up with a 5-months-along pregnant belly could have ruffled feathers; the opposite was true. They celebrated my son’s arrival as if I had been with the company for years, not months.
I was not less able to do my job pregnant, and I am not less able to do it with a baby. If anything, I am more focused on being as productive as I possibly can be so I can get home and see my little guy. I am fully able to work after he goes to sleep; I have always taken calls and sent emails in the evening when my candidates are freer to speak. I am fundamentally the same recruiter that I always was.
When I had to travel for work last month, the company paid for my milk to be shipped home to my baby. I asked for a mini-fridge for milk the day I returned – it arrived without incident a few days later.
This is how you keep women in the workforce. This is how you build brand loyalty. This is how you help moms hustle. My managers and colleagues could teach a masterclass in employee retention.
I understand that lawyers leaving the workforce to care for babies or family members feels like a disruption in the moment. But if you create conditions where an employee wants to stay for the long term, a leave is at worst a hiccup and at best a chance to reset and come back hungrier than ever. Law firms would be well-advised to take the long view and to support new parents as I have been supported. It will pay dividends.
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Kate Reder Sheikh is a Managing Director in our Associate Practice Group. She covers San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Her focus is on providing a concierge level of service to associates and clients alike. Leveraging her background as a litigator in San Francisco, Kate has unparalleled access to roles and firms in the Northern California market.