Monday, February 13, 2012

Work, Parenting and Society

I’m not a mom (not yet, anyway) but I AM passionate about women’s issues with an especially fierce emotional connection to the issue of work, gender expectations and motherhood. 
When I read Kristin Maschka’s post titled Why We Need to Get Rid of the Terms “SAHM” and “working mother”, her arguments resonated with me, and got me thinking about my own views of work and family.
Anyone who has dared to broach this subject with me has likely heard my argument (rant?) using large law firms as an example. This industry is a strong, yet perhaps extreme, example of how employment frameworks (across all industries, not just law) are flawed and need to evolve based on social realities. This Globe and Mail article reports that the way law firms are run (long hours, late meetings) means that women are much more likely than men to leave the firm and only account for 21% of law firm partners.
When discussing this with a lawyer at a networking event, he argued that many women (and some men) have different priorities and therefore should not be partners, and the system is encouraging them to self-select out. He felt this was okay, a good thing even.
It is not a good thing and it is definitely not okay.
I counter-argued. This “system” or employment framework of long hours and 5 pm meetings – what is so essential and necessary about this to be a successful lawyer or run a successful law firm? Is this really the best or only way to run a large law firm, or are these practices based on tradition? Is it a bona fide requirement of the job or an irrational cultural expectation? 
Are there not alternatives that could be used that would accommodate not just these female lawyers, but all lawyers? After all, men are parents too. As much as women are leaving high powered careers in favour of more family time, those male partners are sacrificing fatherhood in favour of their careers.
I challenge organizations to redesign the employment framework. Be creative. I’m not just talking about offering flextime or parental benefits. I think society can go much farther out of the box than that. In our generation, both women and men are educated, experienced and valuable employees. They are also both nurturing and caring parents. My vision for the future is a world that doesn’t just accommodate parenthood, but integrates it.
My life is my work and my family; my economic contribution and my relationships.
And I don’t see the need to choose between the two, even if I have to fight to keep both.
Licia Ronzulli, an MEP from Italy, took her daughter Victoria to work at the European parliament in September 2010. 

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