Obelisk CEO Dana Denis-Smith reflects on the realities for working parents in law…
When I founded Obelisk Support back in 2010, I was struck by the number of parents around me who were leaving the legal profession as it was incompatible with family life – most of them women. I saw an opportunity to work differently and make legal work more inclusive.
Thus Obelisk was born, just six months before my daughter.
Five years in, I identified seven key factors that encouraged women in particular to leave the profession at the mid-level point in their careers: the commute, long working hours, marriage, the first years of motherhood, employer behaviour, work/life balance and shifting priorities.
Six years later, so many of these factors still hold true – both for women and increasingly for men as well. On the flip side, there is greater understanding of the reality of being a working parent and shifts in societal and management attitudes are beginning to make it easier to be your best as a parent and as a lawyer.
I’m delighted to have this opportunity to reflect on how things are changing and to champion parents in law with our friends at Crafty Counsel.
Losing the commute – a bonus for parents
While the recent lockdowns have put increased pressure on working parents in law, especially mothers, the rise of hybrid working offers the potential for some respite. Here at Obelisk we have long championed remote work. Taking out the commute makes it much easier to accommodate working hours and school or nursery pick-ups and collections.
Recent events have demonstrated that remote working can be efficient, secure and cost-effective for employers as well. Yes, there are aspects of remote working that need to be managed more carefully. Facilitating team-bonding, training and collaboration all require extra effort and a degree of “scheduled spontaneity” that feels unnatural. Overall though, more remote working is a win for working parents and their employers.
“There are a great deal of advantages to working freelance. The big appeal for me is that I can be more mobile. I can choose to spend time during school holidays with my family.”
Building flexible careers – making space for parenthood
From Obelisk’s inception we’ve believed that a meaningful career doesn’t have to mean working 60+ hours a week. As a working parent, a degree of flexibility makes life easier, whether you achieve that through reduced hours, non-traditional hours or ad hoc working.
Obelisk consultants work from as little as eight hours a week up to full-time, allowing them the space and flexibility to focus on family when they need it.
As Sheryl Sandberg famously wrote, we need to stop thinking about career ladders and instead think about the career “jungle gym”. Working your way solidly up to a partnership is still a popular career path, but it’s not the only option. A legal career nowadays is much more likely to include time out (for family, study or other interests), time contracting or time in-house – none of which necessarily stop you going back to a partnership role in the future.
Whether you’re a parent to a baby or a teenager, your children need time and attention. Balancing this with the demands of legal work isn’t necessarily always easy. Making legal roles more flexible is the best way to keep more working parents in the profession, and I’m proud that Obelisk has been able to work with so many companies and consultants to make this a reality.
“Remote and part-time working (I currently work four days a week) has enabled me to be more present for my two young kids. It has also allowed me the freedom to pursue my other interests on my day off – when the schools are open!”
Championing parents in law
Too often parents, especially mothers, have felt that they have to hide their family responsibilities or risk not being taken seriously at work. Let’s be honest, becoming a parent forever shifts your priorities, but that doesn’t render you incapable of delivering at work.
Far from it.
What I love about watching our videos with Crafty Counsel is hearing about all the ways our guests feel being a parent has in fact enhanced how they practice. When I speak ot consultants in the Obelisk community and those who are parents in our central team, I’m struck by the same observation. Encouraging people to bring their whole self to work by making it OK to be open about their family responsibilities builds trust, commitment and confidence.
As the mother of a daughter, I am perhaps particularly conscious of the need to be a positive role model for future generations. It is important to me that our daughters, and our sons, see that family and work are not mutually exclusive. It is hard work to deliver excellence in both, it requires patience, effort and the support of others.
By championing parents in law today, we make that work a little easier, and encourage the aspirations of the lawyers of the future.
“The roles that I apply for through Obelisk are with companies that are forward-thinking from a work/life balance point of view …The cultural fit in this respect is essential in my view. I also firmly believe that family are #1 and a job will always take second place.”
Celebrating progress, saying “yes” to more
As an industry, we are at a pivotal moment. Pushed by the pandemic to look closely at how we operate our businesses and lead our lives, we have a unique opportunity to make positive changes. The talent of our working parents is too valuable to lose.
So let’s all decide to say “Yes”.
Yes, this role can be flexible.
Yes, I can be a parent and a lawyer.
Yes, I can do a great job at both.
Yes, I want parents on my team.
Yes, we can make this work together.