The past year has presented a myriad of challenges for working mothers across every industry. While managing family life and client work was a balancing act for attorney moms long before the pandemic, COVID-19 heightened awareness surrounding the difficulties and hardships many working mothers endure. It has also created opportunities for law firms to identify the pain points parents deal with and provide valuable solutions.
Today, Casimir Jones DEI Forum is sharing nine ways your law firm can support female lawyers who are moms. We hope this article provides you with actionable ideas to create a more inclusive environment where working mothers feel recognized and encouraged.
1. Take a Supportive Stance Firm-Wide
The first and most important step your firm can take to support female lawyers who are moms is to make them a priority. Be open with your staff and personnel about the firm’s intent to stand behind its working mothers and empower them to succeed.
Invite the firm’s working moms to share their thoughts on whether current policies and programs are productive and beneficial. Welcome their ideas on opportunities for improvement, and promote honest feedback on what is working and what is not.
Consider the ways your firm might cultivate a culture that acknowledges and embraces life as a working parent. Leadership can take steps as simple as labeling child-related activities on their calendars or initiating conversations surrounding their own experiences as working parents. By doing so, they will demonstrate that being a parent and a lawyer is not only accepted but celebrated.
2. Revisit Your Work From Home Policies
Many firms rolled out new or updated work from home policies in 2020 due to the pandemic. While these policies are certainly a step in the right direction, some could say they are perhaps a bit behind the ball.
Female lawyers who are moms have always juggled childcare and child-related activities with their work schedules. The pandemic amplified the need for remote work options for mothers.
The reality is that, with or without the pandemic, there are many scenarios where lawyers who are mothers benefit from opportunities to work from home. From sick kids and doctor appointments to family schedules, life as a working parent can often be simplified and made less stressful when working from home is an option.
As the business world progresses into a new normal, your firm should consider adjusting your policies to accommodate parents being able to work from home in the future.
3. Adjust Billable Hour Expectations to Alleviate Stress
Billable hours are a priority for any attorney. In this pandemic, lawyers who are moms are managing the stress of meeting their firm’s billable hour expectations on top of the time required to care for their families. That stress and fear of underperformance may result in mothers not investing valuable time in self-care or their families.
Firms can support their working moms by temporarily relieving that pressure and adjusting billable hour expectations. As pandemic life presses on, easing billable hour demands might encourage attorneys to prioritize their well-being.
Whether your firm establishes a set period in which billable hour expectations are reduced, or shift focus to alternative approaches to measuring performance. Either way, the short-term impact on lawyers who are mothers will be appreciated.
4. Plan for Flexibility as the World Changes
As we slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, law firms need to be adaptable. Official safety guidelines and social practices will continue to change. It is important to be flexible with the accommodations you provide working mothers.
Frequently assess whether your policies and programs are meeting the needs of attorneys who are moms. The practices and procedures developed three months ago may not be the most effective tomorrow.
Proactively set up open communication lines with the firm’s working moms. Find out what their needs are and how you can support them. Creating plans that incorporate their feedback will make them feel valued and could improve their engagement.
5. Encourage Female Lawyers Who Are Moms With Mentorship Programs
Facilitating a mentorship program is an essential element in your firm’s support of female lawyers who are moms. Mentoring can be a crucial differentiator between high-achieving attorneys and those who struggle to elevate their careers. This is true for female attorneys, in particular.
For attorney moms, a mentor who has been in their shoes and forged a similar professional path can provide valuable insights. They’re able to share experiences and guidance new mothers need to succeed. Expectant mothers benefit from mentors who offer advice on balancing their workload against the transition of becoming new moms.
A study performed by the University of Calgary found that female attorneys who worked with female mentors experienced better career satisfaction. They were more intent to continue their law practice and less non-work conflict than those who were mentored by men. While male mentor/ female mentee relationships are undoubtedly valuable, access to a female mentor positively impacts a female attorney’s overall professional experience.
What’s more, when a working mother mentee is paired with a mentor who is also a mom, it allows them to feel seen and supported as they establish themselves as working parents.
6. Assess How Your Firm Supports Mothers of School-Aged Children
Even law firms that were ahead of the curve with exceptional parent benefits before the pandemic may need to evaluate how they can best support working parents today. As schools continue virtual learning and resume in-person classrooms, the support mothers need is changing. Therefore, now is the time to explore new programs that will show your firm’s commitment to supporting female lawyers who are moms.
For example, some firms are launching initiatives that give employees support and resources to deal with school resuming this fall. Others are introducing programs such as:
- providing a stipend for tutoring or back-up care
- loaner laptops for families with students participating in virtual learning
- parent support workshops
Exploring how your firm can ease the burdens on working mothers with school-aged children will help them be their most productive on the job. It will also allow them to manage critical educational activities in their families.
7. Establish Resources for Their Well-Being
While many firms have incorporated mental health programs into their benefits packages over the years, it is crucial that your firm’s offerings adequately reflect these difficult times. Working mothers are reporting unprecedented levels of mental distress. 74% of working moms surveyed by Motherly.com reported struggling mentally since the beginning of the pandemic.
Your firm can support female lawyers who are moms by giving them access to resources to help them navigate the effects of the pandemic on their mental health, as well as the mental load they carry throughout their careers.
For example, one popular way to provide mental wellness tools to employees during the pandemic is by giving them free or discounted subscriptions to self-care and meditation apps. Other approaches to improving mental health support include:
- bringing in guest speakers and experts to share informative presentations
- forming hobby and interest groups (knitting, biking, etc.) to help employees enjoy relaxing activities
- sponsoring education opportunities and coursework that allow personnel to learn self-care practices
8. Provide Accommodations for New Moms
One of the most challenging experiences a female attorney may go through is life with a new baby. During this period, law firms can support working mothers by making it less painful to transition from maternity leave back to work.
As we mentioned, coordinating a mentorship with attorneys who have gone through this experience is highly beneficial for women attorneys who are having a baby. Work with pregnant attorneys to create transition plans that make them feel more comfortable and prepared. This will alleviate fears and the pressure they might feel about returning before they are ready.
When new mothers come back to the office, anticipate their needs and create solutions to meet them. For example, ensure there are private and quiet spaces available for breastfeeding mothers. Perhaps provide a dedicated refrigerator for them to store their milk during the workday. Some firms have even invested in programs that ship chilled breastmilk for traveling mothers.
Acknowledge that new moms may have more frequent interruptions to their workdays or unique scheduling requirements. Encourage them to take the time they need.
9. Initiate Individual Conversations
Firm leadership and Human Resources must develop a plan for touching base with working moms. This will help you assess how they are handling their workloads and the challenges they are facing.
However, it is equally important that mothers who are attorneys have opportunities for conversations with their direct leaders. In these discussions, they can explore their specific needs and concerns. Leaders are then able to look at employee-specific solutions based on their particular situations.
Not only will attorney moms feel their concerns are heard, but with these conversations, the firm has the opportunity to make adjustments that may improve retention along with supporting valued employees.
Has this article inspired you to revisit how your firm is supporting working mothers? At Casimir Jones, we are actively exploring new ways to create an inclusive working environment for our professionals. Visit our Diversity & Inclusion page to learn about our current program offerings for aspiring lawyers.