Women and the Work/Life Balance

Women’s Law Forum joined Lane County Women Lawyers for its kickoff “Work/Life Balance Annual Series” luncheon. On Friday, February 6th, Lane County attorneys and judges sat with UO law students and faculty for a delicious lunch and exciting company. The event wasn’t just to socialize though, it was an opportunity for everyone attending to discuss and share with one another on balancing their career with the rest of their life. This event made me think about the inevitable phrase that women are told when they pursue a career, the “you can have it all” phrase. Meaning, do you think you’re able to have the impressive career, the loving partner, and the multiple children and be happy with your life? I was extremely pleased that LCWL decided to name their event “Work/Life Balance” instead of something referencing the phrase “you can have it all”. Finding a balance between your work and the rest of your life shouldn’t be a gendered issue. Everyone has other priorities besides work and it’s difficult to manage your life in a way that makes you feel happy and satisfied with the amount of time and effort you’re putting into each priority. On the other hand, the phrase “having it all” is very gendered. Men aren’t asked if they think “can have it all” because society already tells them that they can.

how you can have it all

This question has plagued any woman who has worked for her career, or isn’t married by thirty, or who has young kids and also works full-time. Also, if she does have an impressive career and a family, she is asked “how do you do it?” as if it’s an impossible feat. The discussion and presentation at the lunch never presumed that we, as women in the legal field, couldn’t have it all. At our tables, we were given two discussion questions; “What advice would I give to my law student self?” and “What advice my law student self would give to me as a lawyer 20 years from now?” Going around the room and sharing what our discussions came up with, we noticed repeated answers at every table.

For the advice that the attorneys and judges would give their law school self, it came down to clinical courses, enjoying your time in school while you still can, and remembering that there is always something bigger than law school. Clinical courses allow you to actually get the real life experience of an attorney. University of Oregon has a variety of clinics and courses that allow you to “play lawyer” with the safety of supervision. Personally, I don’t want my first experience with a trial to be my first day at work after passing the Bar, so I’m planning to take plenty of them. Also, while you’re in law school, figure out your work/life balance. The more experience you have managing a busy life filled with various priorities, the better you’ll be able to handle it after you graduate.

One judge at my table ended our discussion with “Be Bold. Fear holds you back from too many things. You need to be open to what life has to offer.” This was definitely directed to the women in the room (yes, there were men at this lunch also). For example, studies have shown that women ask their boss for a raise at a lower rate than men. The next time you’re in class or a meeting, take note of how many questions are preempted with “I’m sorry…” or “This is probably a stupid question but…” and you’ll notice that most of these statements come from the women in the room. As the celestial Amy Poehler wrote in her book, “It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for. It takes years to find your voice and seize your real estate.” That’s why I feel it’s so important to have these events with organizations like Women’s Law Forum and Lane County Women Lawyers. To see strong and powerful women telling us to speak up in class because what you have to say is important is incredibly influential and meaningful.

liz lemon

The second discussion question at lunch was for the law students. 20 years in the future, what would we say to ourselves if we had the chance? Almost everyone said that they would remind themselves why they came to law school. Choosing law school, especially in the current job market, is a huge decision. I hope no one decided this on a whim because your reasoning behind why you’re in law school needs to be meaningful because it is what gets you through.

Personally, the reminder that I can “have it all” makes me ball my hands into fists. First of all, not all women want to get married and have children so they could already “have it all”. Some women want to stay at home and raise the children and some women don’t. Both are okay and both women need to work to achieve the many things they want in life. Second of all, the phrase seems to be used as a reminder to women that, yes, you can have it all! As if I didn’t think I could. Sarah Silverman sums it up quite nicely with, “Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake. Not because they can’t, but because it would have never occurred to them they couldn’t.”

Added note on 2/11/15

Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation talks about “having it all” and being a woman in politics. Her husband, Ben Wyatt, is running for Congress and Leslie becomes the focus of the media so she responds with a list of answers to the questions that she knows the media will ask her in the upcoming months.

“‘Aren’t you trying to have it all?’ That question makes no sense. It’s a stupid question. Stop asking it. Don’t ask it. ‘Do you miss your kids while you’re at work?’ Of course I do. Everybody does. And then, you know, sometimes I don’t…If you want to make pie, that’s great. If you want to have a career, that’s great too. Do both, or neither, it doesn’t matter—just don’t judge what someone else has decided to do. We are all just trying to find the right path for us as individuals on this earth.”

As mentioned before, Amy Poehler is a goddess and the author of this article is extremely excited that wrote something that Ms. Poehler would agree with.

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