Legal blogs can be boring. Look, it’s true. It needed to be said. You don’t want dry expositions on the finer points of law; you want to read something that’s relevant to your life. We hope to do just that in our blog posts. While we fully intend to provide information on topics related to estate planning and family law we also want to highlight issues related to working women and minorities in today’s corporate environment, whether those issues are raised through new papers, journals, current events or entertainment. We want to do all of this by keeping the jargon to a minimum, always keeping practicality in mind, and using a drop or two of humor along the way. Because at the end of the day, we realize that a legal issue really is a life issue.
With that in mind, we kick off our first blog post with a discussion of “opting out” and one of the few memorable instances on network television where the uphill task of “opting in” is depicted realistically. A Few Words, the most recent episode of television drama The Good Wife, features Alicia Florrick’s recollections of how she fought her way back into law after “opting out” to raise her two children and the humiliating public scandal of learning about her husband’s infidelities through the media.
The specific roadblocks in Alicia’s journey back to practicing law are, of course, dramatic in nature and give the show the titillation factor it needs to attract viewers and keep them hooked (this author being no exception). However, there are factors in Alicia’s story that are common threads in the lives of many professional women looking to step back into the work force after a period of years. Surprisingly, Alicia is shown to have moments of extreme despair and self-doubt, a lack of options and job offers for positions that do not even come close to matching her skills sets. These challenges are familiar to far too many of us.
Women coming back into high-powered professions seem to be a hot topic of late. The New York Times alone has featured numerous article on this subject in the past few months, including:
· The Opt Out Generation Wants Back In
· After the Opt Out Revolution: Asking “How’s That Working For You”
· Helping Women Get Back In The Game
All of these articles, while highlighting successes, address some of the challenges that working women face when trying to re-enter their professions. But let’s be honest – how many working women end up as Vice Presidents at major financial institutions or equity partners at one of the top law firms after an absence of more than five years from the workplace?
Why is this the case? Why are our success stories in corporate life after ‘opting in’ so limited? Perhaps the most truthful and hard-hitting dialogue in all of A Few Words occurs as Alicia asks her erstwhile competitor and now partner, Carey Agos, about initial first impressions. When Alicia admits that given the ability to hire either Carey or herself four years ago she would have hired Carey, he agrees. Carey tells her a devastating truth: “ You wouldn’t hire you either.” It is exactly this sentiment that crystalizes many of the core issues that women returning to highly demanding careers in law and finance must fight consistently.
Women who opted out years ago were held up as the ideal of the new wave of feminism – making choices that were right for them and their families, withstanding the pressure to succeed in the corporate world, and deflecting judgment from their peers. Yet, inevitably, many of these same women discover after the first few years of sleepless nights, potty training and constant care of small children have passed, they long for their work, for their sense of purpose outside the family structure and for the sense of camaraderie that comes from the workplace.
But the corporate world they left hasn’t evolved with them. That world, the one they left so happily those years ago, still measures commitment by billable hours or time spent at the office and looks for proven success stories to bring into the fold. It is this mind set that has been ingrained in many professional women. Hence – “You wouldn’t hire you either.”
This is a dilemma with no quick fix in sight. It’s neither a simple question nor one that can be addressed by women alone. It requires women working with other women and men to help change the parameters of success and to value more than the bottom line. Unfortunately, those are drastic changes that don’t seem to be on the nearby horizon.
In the meantime, we working women continue to juggle all our priorities, question our decisions, and worry about our families and career prospects in fitful turns. At the end of the day, there is a little Alicia Florrick in all us, wanting, as she does “a happy life and control over my fate.”