This is What I’m Talking About

No sooner did I hit “Publish” on my last blog, “Is Egg Freezing the Key to Gender Equality,” in which I talked about what it will take to make women equal participants in the work force, did I come across this gem:

http://abovethelaw.com/2014/10/judge-refuses-to-postpone-hearing-because-maternity-leave-isnt-a-good-enough-excuse/

This is what I’m talking about.  I have heard so many of these stories in the context of the legal profession.  I have lived a few of them myself.  Until now, my favorite was from my first job out of law school with a BIGLAW firm – a colleague of mine was a litigator and she was required to wear a skirt of a very specific length (it couldn’t be too long – yes, you read that correctly) when she appeared before one particular judge in town.  During that time, I can say without exception that every single time I saw a woman leave the office at night (yes, NIGHT) to pick up her children or decline to work a Saturday because of a family commitment, her dedication to the firm and to her career was questioned.  Similarly, when a male attorney declined to work a Saturday due to a family commitment, he was considered to be “a great guy.”

In this story on Above The Law, a female sole practitioner had the NERVE to try to take six weeks of maternity leave.  As a sole practitioner, she didn’t have partners to cover her court appearance so she filed a motion for continuance in an immigration case.  Many immigration cases take YEARS to work through the courts, so asking for a six week postponement (less in this case) is not a lot of time.  And her clients and opposing counsel were all cool with it.  Don’t get me started on how six weeks is a completely inadequate maternity leave, but, nevertheless, that’s all she was looking for.

The judge sat on her motion for some time and then denied it one week before the hearing (after the kid was born).  Apparently, in his opinion, having a child is not “good cause” to postpone a hearing.  Like she had asked to postpone because she had a hair appointment that day.

Having no choice but to appear in court on short notice, she appeared in court with the baby.  She was new in town and didn’t have family nearby, her husband was out of town, and a day care center will not accept a child younger than 6 weeks of age.  Of course they won’t, because only a complete and total asshat expects the mother to go back to work that soon after having a baby.

THEN, in open court, the judge humiliated this lawyer by questioning her parenting skills . . . because she appeared in court as required by the same judge.

So, let me draw some conclusions about this judge’s perspective: (1) a competent lawyer cannot accept clients while pregnant, (2) a competent lawyer cannot take maternity leave without withdrawing from the practice of law entirely, and (3) when a judge, knowing an attorney just had a baby, compels a lawyer to appear and she is forced to appear with a baby in tow, it’s the attorney’s fault.  Interesting.

How it is that a profession who, above all others, ought to know better, is so often on the “HEY I’M A STUPID JERK” side of this issue?

This story makes me so angry.

On the bright side, I am pleased to see that this lawyer filed a complaint against this judge.  I hope they require this idiot judge to at least pretend he’s a better person in the future.

On the very bright side, this lawyer can now go work for Facebook and they’ll reimburse her for the cost of getting her eggs frozen . . . so she won’t have to inconvenience anyone with pregnancies until she’s older.

Is Egg Freezing the Key to Gender Equality?

I saw an article this week that talked about how Facebook and Apple are offering a new benefit to their employees through health insurer Aenta.  They will cover the cost of a woman electing to freeze her eggs so presumably she can have children via IVF later in life.

Wow, I have very mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I appreciate an employer who recognizes that some of their employees are struggling with life/work balance issues and they’re attempting (at not insignificant expense) to help them with it. And maybe this is some kind of genuine, albeit ham-handed, attempt by a male-dominated industry to recruit women.

Some women will benefit from this very much.  They really will.  And this is a good thing.

However, I read an article that speculated whether this move will create gender equality in the workplace.  Lets not get carried away here.  It isn’t the condition of a woman’s eggs that creates an environment where she makes less money than a man doing the same work.  It’s a whole lot more than that.

I can’t help but think that paying for women in the workforce to freeze their eggs is just avoiding what is really needed to help women balance families and careers.  We need affordable, quality child care in this country.  We need paid maternity leave guaranteed by law.  We need decisions around a woman’s health (including birth control) to be solely between her and her doctor.  And, of course, we need equal pay for equal work.

A lot of loyal employees at Apple and Facebook are going to freeze their eggs, dust themselves off, and go back to work.  But when are they going to find the perfect time to get pregnant and pop that kid out?

As someone who personally delayed having children, I don’t know if it’s easier now, at this later stage in life, than it would have been when I was younger.  I may make a little bit more money now, but I still pay an arm and a leg for child care and I still took an unpaid maternity leave that was just too short.  But now I am older and have less energy at the end of a long day.  And I’m still trying to figure out how to get it all done at work and at home, just like a younger me would have had to do.

Also, not to get too dark here, but am I the only one who wonders what message these companies are sending to young women entering their workforces?  To me, it seems like the message is that these women will need to delay having families in order to be successful at those companies.

In any case, I do very much support whatever a company wants to do to allow its employees to make their own decisions about when to have a family.  I just don’t think we should read too much into this egg-freezing-as-an-employer-benefit trend.

Saying No

I began my career at a conservative “biglaw” law firm.  The partners in our group were all older white men.  After working there for a while, it was clear that the partners did not want to invest training or any other resources into young female associates who might have kids and leave the firm, or who would go on maternity leave and, due to the gap in work, never make partner.

I felt a strong pressure to never say the word “baby” or say hello  to a staff member’s visiting baby, lest the partners conclude that I was a baby lover and not worth their time.

No, really.  I saw it happen.

Now, I work in-house for a company where most of my colleagues have families, and where I’ve never seen anyone criticized for having a family.

But my experience at the biglaw firm has stuck with me through the years.  In every way possible, I try to keep people at work from noticing or being reminded of my new mom status (aside from my physique, sadly).  That includes the days following a rough night with little sleep, or when I was a total stress monster because Punkie started day care.  I don’t even do this intentionally.

When I started getting pressure to go to the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge, I knew I didn’t want to participate because it starts at 7PM.  7PM is when I nurse Punkie in advance of his 8PM bedtime.

If I needed to be at a work function at 7PM for an important reason, like a customer meeting or something like that, I’d make it work.  But for the Corporate Challenge, I don’t feel it’s worth the sacrifice.  Besides, there will be plenty of opportunities to participate in mandatory fun.

The Corporate Challenge is a 3-mile run or walk and many businesses in town will form teams and participate.

I am not athletic.  I’ve never been athletic.  In fact, I am a plus sized girl who does not run, unless chased by a grizzly bear.  And let’s be honest – I’d probably be eaten pretty quickly if a grizzly bear were introduced into my ecosystem.  If, instead of a grizzly bear, it was one of those smaller black bears, I might weigh the risks against the unpleasantness of running and decide to just walk normal speed.

And if I were to walk or run a 3-mile course, I’d choose to huff and puff in private, without my co-workers watching.

So, again today, I was pressured to go to the Corporate Challenge.  Every biglaw lawyer instinct in my brain was yelling:

Don’t tell them you have to take care of a baby instead of going to mandatory fun!

I said the Corporate Challenge just isn’t my cup of tea.  The parry quickly came – you can walk instead of running.  I said I might be able to help set up or prepare, but I can’t participate in the run/walk.  The response was, aw, come on, it’s no fun unless you do the walk.

I really didn’t want to say out loud that I need to go home to breast feed my baby . . . although I knew it is 100% the choice I would make.

So . . . choking on my sense of horror, I said “I have to go home and take care of the baby.”  My heart sank – I’d probably go home tonight and update my resume.

And the response came:

Okay, but definitely next year.

Okay.