On Mother's Day, we celebrate all the wonderful things mom does--like making sure the juice box is in the lunch bag, baking that incredible Winnie-the-Pooh cake, and being the perky class mom--even when she's exhausted by her day job as a lawyer.
On Father's Day, we celebrate him for just showing up.
Outdated stereotypes? Yes, according to a newly released study of 250 fathers (mostly professionals) by A Better Balance, a group that advocates for better work/life balance in the workplace. Here are its key findings:
• A majority of the professional fathers say that balancing work and family causes "frequent" stress. Nearly 85 percent feel pressure to be both provider and engaged parent.
• Almost seven out of ten fathers say they'd like flexible work arrangements.
• 85 percent say they'd take advantage of family-friendly work policies, if senior leaders would set the example, or if they see other male colleagues do so without negative repercussions. Also, fathers say that "having a supportive manager and workplace culture" made a bigger difference than having formal work/life balance policies.
• A "significant" minority report negative treatment and disapproval at work when the father has to take time for family responsibilities.
Many of the male lawyers I know do feel the tension between work and family. But here's the big question: What are they doing about it?
One lawyer, Gary Phelan, tells me he's changed his whole career to spend more time with his three daughters. He says his divorce over a year ago caused him to reexamine his life: "I realized that I had always put work first. It was always about productivity and billable hours, and it caused resentment [in my marriage]. . . You can't have your career be the driving force. I had been ostensibly successful, but there's a price."
A board member of A Better Balance, Phelan says he left a "premier plaintiffs firm [Outten Golden]" in New York for Connecticut to be closer to his daughters. He is now special counsel with Cohen and Wolf in Westport, where he works about 50 hours a week (he says he used to work 70-80 hours). "People were shocked that I'd make a move like this, but working women have been doing [the juggle of home and work] for years," he says.
I have a feeling that few men will follow Phelan's lead. More common is for male lawyers to say they're sympathetic to work/life balance issues than to drastically change their ways.
Such is the case with Marshall Gilinsky, a litigator with Anderson Kill & Olick. Though his wife is on the board of A Better Balance (she's also a former lawyer with Winston & Strawn who now works as a consultant to nonprofits), he admits, "My wife bears more responsibility [at home]." The arrangement, he says, is largely dictated by the realities of being a lawyer: "Life's hard, and if you're a litigator and you have to go to trial, your family has to understand that you might not be there."
So where does this leave us? Dorian Denburg, the president of National Association of Women Lawyers, says she feels men care increasingly about balance "because it affects their wives and grown daughters." An in-house counsel at AT&T, Denburg says she's noticed more men taking time off during the day to attend their kids' soccer games and swim meets. "Years ago, they'd just take off, but now they talk about it."
So we've progressed from the days of Father Knows Best. But is taking time off occasionally for a sporting event or a recital really a sign that male lawyers are putting work/life balance on the front burner?
Let's just say I'm skeptical.
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