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Lawyers Club of San Diego is a specialty bar association committed to advancing the status of women in the law and society. We use this space to share articles written about Lawyers Club events and programs and items of interest to our members which are relevant to our mission. The opinions outlined in content published on the Lawyers Club of San Diego blog are those of the authors and not of Lawyers Club. All members are encouraged to participate respectfully in discussions regarding the topics posted on the blog. Guest writers are welcome. Guidelines for writers may be found on the Leadership Resources page.

 

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My So-Called First-World Problems: "When Opting Out Is Not An Option"

Posted By Rebecca Zipp, Tuesday, September 20, 2016

When Option Out Is Not An Option            

           Remember Lisa Belkin?  Writer of “The Opt-Out Revolution,” which the New York Times Magazine published in October 2003? The article went viral before going viral was a thing. Belkin examined why so many women armed with Ivy League degrees were “opting out” of the workplace. “Why don’t women run the world?” “Maybe,” she explores, “It’s because they don’t want to.”

            I won’t rehash the flood of commentary the article generated but will leave it to your fertile imaginations (if you missed it, Google it). Thirteen years later, women continue to “opt out” of law and other competitive careers in concerning numbers.[1] We take on less demanding assignments, to better cater to our babies. I did it–I knew I could not breastfeed, try cases, and care for a two-year-old and an infant. For me, the calculus changed when the babies turned one and three, and breastfeeding fell out of the equation.

            I sat down recently with Mahira[2], a new mother who recently “opted out” of her job with a progressive non-profit following a year of trying to make it all work. I wanted to know the extent to which her opting out was an affirmative choice, or whether circumstances drove her to it. 

            Mahira’s husband enjoyed some flexibility after the arrival of their child. He took two months of paternity leave, and initially he returned to work part-time, to ease Mahira’s transition back to work. The firestorm hit when they each received significant promotions - in the same week! Their day care situation was not working well; the baby slept poorly. In addition to work and the baby, Mahira comes from a close-knit family and helps to care for a disabled relative. Her husband’s promotion meant constant travel, so Mahira was flying solo during the workweek. Mahira’s non-profit was incredibly flexible, allowing her to experiment with part-time and work-from-home days. 

            But in the end, Mahira came to a conclusion: “My sanity is not for sale.” She’s been home for a couple of months now, and she remains active with two non-profits on a volunteer basis. For Mahira, the financial dependence on her husband’s income has been one of the hardest parts of “opting out.” This is the first time in her adult life that she not earned income. Quitting her job has made Mahira’s life saner, and she feels tremendous peace with her decision. 

Belkin’s subjects decided that their own work lives were too demanding to be sustained along with any kind of a family life. Mahira’s decision mirrors theirs. When her husband’s job became all-consuming, it was Mahira who bowed out of the workforce. To be fair, finances played into her decision–her husband out-earned her. But here’s the thing: My son’s school is filled with kids whose mothers also opted out, probably the result of hundreds of individual decisions. It is not the individual decision of any particular woman that is of concern, but the pattern. 

           We women fill the lecture halls of elite colleges and law schools. Yet, when life as a dual-career family becomes unsustainable, it’s rarely husbands who step away from their earned income. And, when gender appears to be the common denomination among those opting out, is leaving the workforce really an individual choice, or is it more appropriate to deem it a sociological phenomenon? And, how does this model, (where the female takes on the lion’s share of responsibility for home and family), teach our children where women and where mothers, belong?



[1] In 2012, the ABA released statistics bearing this out. Although women held 45% of associate positions, only 20% of partners and 15% of equity partners are women.

[2] Mahira is not her real name.

This blog post was authored by Rebecca Zipp. Rebecca Zipp currently has a sink full of dirty dishes.

 


Tags:  balance parenting  LCB  My So-Called First-World Problems  working mom 

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Perfection in the Imperfection: "A Working Mother's Worth"

Posted By Megan O’Neill, Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Working Mother’s Worth

 

Jennifer Aniston released a statement addressing the rampant pregnancy rumors that have haunted her for years. "This past month in particular has illuminated for me how much we define a woman’s value based on her marital and maternal status." While this article focuses on the projection of inadequacy onto women who are not married or have kids, within the professional world I feel a completely different bias. One that women who are married and/or have children are somehow unable to handle the focus or commitment of a demanding career because she is balancing distractions from other areas of her life. A bias towards men (married and single) and single women, that they are somehow sheltered and/or better able to handle the distractions of a home life. So women with families are left to constantly justify and/or define their “value” at home and at work.

 

Perhaps one way to begin to challenge the definition of “value” for women in the workplace is to challenge the long-held standard of time as a measurement of one’s value in a professional career. Someone once told me that it is great that in this day and age I have the choice to enter the workforce and I have the choice to balance family and work. I disagree; I do not really have a choice. We have a choice to go to work, but if we cannot maintain the billable hour requirement, our perceived value suffers. While careers may tolerate our home life, we all continue to be held to the billable hour standard as a measure of our commitment and desirability to promote. I would like to choose to have a career that is challenging and demanding within a firm that allows me to grow and promote all while being flexible to the needs and demands of a family at home. Thankfully, I have found such a work environment but I am aware from conversations with peers just how unusual it is.

 

The film “I Don’t Know How She Does It” starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, navigates the challenges and successes of a professional seeking a partnership role in her firm, while also juggling duties of mother and wife. Sarah’s competition for the position is a single woman who is driven, qualified, hungry and undistracted. I love how the film explores Sarah’s character’s relationships with the PTA moms, with her high profile client, with her co-workers and the partners, and also with her children and her husband. The first time I casually watched the movie my jaw dropped and I felt so validated. While not an award winner, I recommend the movie to everyone!


This blog post was authored by Megan O'Neill

Tags:  balance  billable hours  family  I don't know how she does it  jennifer aniston  perfection in the imperfection  working mom  worklife 

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My So-Called First-World Problems: "Smarter Faster Better"

Posted By Rebecca Zipp, Monday, August 22, 2016
 Smarter Faster Better

Charles Duhigg’s 2012 book, “The Power of Habit,” set the corporate world afire by explaining how personal and institutional habits develop, and how they can change. His new book, Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, highlights a method of problem-solving popularized by Toyota, and described by Duhigg as “the Five Whys.” You identify a problem, and determine on the most surface level why the problem exists. Duhigg’s much-discussed example of a problem he solved, (courtesy of Toyota), was that he and his wife never got home in time to have dinner with their children. 

It turned out that in Duhigg’s case, hectic mornings at home bred hectic evenings. A couple of easy changes to the morning routine and voila, the four Duhiggs routinely sit down to dinner together. Heck, they are probably enjoying free-range chicken carbonara at their upcycled dining room table together right now . . . as they discuss Muffy Duhigg’s upcoming lacrosse tournament and Badger Duhigg’s design ideas for whimsical organic cotton oven mitts, the profits of which will be donated to the Celiac Foundation. 

Not the Zipps. We are washing down leftover Little Caesar’s with red wine and non-organic milk. Then, serving highly-processed desserts–think Teddy Grahams–before bedtime, when we like to impart a misogynistic fairy tale or two. But, I digress.


If you are a working mom (why, oh why, is "working dad" not a thing?) you know that something's gotta give. You are probably pretty committed to being a mom, and to your job, but those other minutiae of life–marriage, friends, fitness, and a house that doesn't attract the attention of CPS–feel more . . . discretionary. And
maybe, just maybe, you judge yourself for not scoring a perfect 10 in every area of life. 

I do. And so I decided to test the Toyota method in my own life, with my so-called first-world problems. Maybe implementing the Toyota method could help me become a perfect 10 mom and perfect 10 homemaker. Here is what happened:

Problem #1:  My five-year-old is crying on the floor.

Why? I told him he must use a pencil, not his foot-long Ninja Turtle pen, to do his homework.

Why? Because I believe that kindergarteners (mine in particular) ought to use pencils, not foot-long Ninja Turtle pens, to do homework.

Why? Because they make frequent mistakes on their homework. 

Why? Kindergarten homework is their first experience with producing a written work product.

Why? Because they are five years old.

Lesson: My five-year-old is crying on the floor precisely because he is a five-year-old!

Problem #2:  My laundry is clean, but is neither folded nor put away.

Why? I do not immediately fold my laundry when the dryer cycle ends.

Why? I become engaged in another activity.

Why? Just as the dryer cycle finishes, my three-year-old asks me to help him make a rattlesnake puppet out of an old sock.

Why? He lacks the motor skills necessary to complete this task by himself.

Why? He is three years old.

Lesson: My laundry is not put away because I have a three-year-old.

The takeaway for me is that I have about fifteen years before I can expect to be faster, smarter, or better. The same expanse of time stands between me and a tidy house. Better luck to the rest of you, as you strive to implement this super helpful method in your personal and professional lives.

This blog post was authored by Rebecca Zipp. 
Rebecca Zipp currently has a sink full of dirty dishes.

Tags:  book review  My So-Called First-World Problems  self-help  self-improvement  working mom 

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Perfection in the Imperfection: "Self-Compassion"

Posted By Siobhan Strott, Monday, July 25, 2016
Self-Compassion

I have been feeling it lately. The continuous inner dialogue that, usually a low hum, has reached a deafening scream. You know the feeling. Constantly deciding what gets your attention when a million things are vying for it. Some days/weeks/months, I feel like I’ve got this working mom gig handled. Other times, when every aspect of my life seems to demand my immediate attention, I feel like I’m dropping all of the balls at once.

Before becoming a mother, I poured my energy into my education and later my career. My source of pride was in getting good grades in school and positive reviews at work. Now having a husband and two young children who also deserve the best of me, it’s been a bit of a juggling act to maintain all the areas of my life with that same, limited amount of energy. 

I know you have heard it before: balance. But what does it mean? What do you do when you are preparing for trial, your husband is traveling, and you have a sick child?  It means you do your best with the resources you have. Sometimes work may get neglected and sometimes your family may feel neglected because the truth of it is, you can’t be everything to everyone at the same time.

I have been beating myself up lately. I haven’t made any big mistakes, I just feel like my overall performance has been lacking. I’m either at the office late or taking work home while my kids watch a little too much Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, or I’m leaving early to run to this pediatrician appointment or that school show while I have emails piling up and phone calls not returned.

I recently saw an article in The Atlantic titled, Why Self-Compassion Works Better Than Self-Esteemby Olga Khazan. The author of the article interviews Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas and author of the book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. In the interview, Ms. Neff discusses the pitfalls of focusing on self-esteem, most notably, that to build our own self-esteem, it comes at the cost of putting others down. Instead, she advises, “treating yourself with the same kind of kindness, care, compassion, as you would treat those you care about – your good friends, your loved ones.”

Since reading the article, I have been keeping the notion of self-compassion at the forefront of my inner dialogue. Now that doesn’t mean I give myself a pass for poor work. To me, it means I acknowledge the current situation for exactly what it is and sincerely examine my role, without judgment. 


The thing about life is, it’s messy and imperfect and we are all imperfect humans (as much as we try to deny it). Imperfection has been a difficult lesson for me to internalize and self-compassion is a fairly new concept for me. Going forward, I plan to dig deeper into my definition of self-compassion and I urge you to do the same.  After all, we are all imperfect humans trying to get through this life as best we can. Maybe self-compassion can turn into compassion for each other.

This blog was authored by Siobhan Strott


Tags:  balance  inner strength  insecurity  LCB  perfection in the imperfection  self compassion  self esteem  working mom 

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Perfection in the Imperfection: "Work vs. Life vs. Me"

Posted By Megan O'Neill, Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Work vs. Life vs. Me

As a little girl, I wasn’t really interested in dolls or playing house. I played business. I loved setting up my desk and rubber stamping paper and answering calls, taking notes – I loved it all. Someone might suggest that I was influenced by my parents, however, my dad was a pastor (not a traditional office environment), and while I have memories of being a “latch-key kid,” my mother is quick to remind me that she stayed home until I was in 6th grade (then she went on to conquer the world of health care). So, while my parents have been an enormous influence on me and my career goals, I take pride in and embrace my innate young work ethic and ambitions!


In the years to come, I did well in high school and college and, professionally, fell into what has become a career that I absolutely love. In my single days I relished in the late nights preparing for depositions and trials and felt a great sense of pride and accomplishment. Passing the CPA exam was par for the course in my career path and I felt like I was that little girl again at a desk, taking on the world.


THEN, I met a (wonderful and loving) man who equally loves his career (firefighter), and we got married. THEN, one year later (2012), we welcomed our first daughter and three years to the day after that (2015), we welcomed our second daughter.  These new amazing and fantastic life events have created a great deal of internal struggle for me as I try to continue to stay the course of my dream professional life, as well as explore my new roles that I love as wife and mother. To complicate matters a little more, our oldest daughter has a rare medical condition complete with seizures, making childcare a great deal more complicated. 


I have felt that my home life needed to be in direct competition with work, or vice versa. That having one meant that the other was sacrificed. Admittedly, I felt as though I was truly failing for the first time in my life. I love my career and where it is going, yet at the same time, I absolutely LOVE being a wife and mother and how in the world do I get all of these moving parts to move together?


Then it hit me. To me it’s not about “doing it all” or “having it all,” because inevitably, something is sacrificed in the pursuit of something else – creating competition where it’s just not necessary, and maybe I just don’t want “to do it ALL.” Lately for me it’s rather the “balance” that is spoken about ad nauseam, or a better word that I bring from my career is “collaboration.”  We talk about collaboration all of the time in our cases, so how can my career ambitions work with my home life (or vice versa) to foster an environment of, well I’ll just say it, kum-ba-ya. 


I don’t believe that there is an absolute right or wrong way to be true to oneself while staying true to family and work. I also expect that I need to be able to ebb and flow with any new challenges in work or life that come my way. I feel that by viewing these pieces of the puzzle not with an end product in mind that are “competing” for perfect placement, but as “pieces of me” that continue to collaboratively shape who I am, that I am at peace with me, my work and my family.  


This blog post was authored by Megan O'Neill

 

Tags:  collaboration  having it all  LCB  perfection in the imperfection  working mom  worklife balance 

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My So-Called First-World Problems: "Trials"

Posted By Rebecca Zipp, Monday, June 27, 2016
Updated: Monday, June 27, 2016

Trials


When I told my then-boss I was pregnant with my second child, he had one question for me. “How are you going to do trials with two kids?” The audacity of the question struck a nerve; I was certain that none of my male colleagues had ever been asked the same question. 

 Four years later, here’s a retrospective on how to do trials (or any other challenging professional thing) because -*gasp*- it is possible.

1. A supportive husband. Yeah, well, it’s a cliché because it is true.

I left the meeting with my boss knowing I had something to prove. So, in my first full calendar year back at work, I tried a dozen cases. My husband picked up the slack. And picked up the children. And dropped off the children. Because I was always in trial. Once, after sending a jury out to deliberate, I left the courtroom and discovered a message from daycare on my voicemail. It was the standard “sick baby, come get him” message. I was relieved my case had concluded so that I could pick up the baby for once. Thankfully, before court recessed, we had agreed to address any jury questions via conference calls. I retrieved the baby from daycare and we sat in my office and I answered jury questions over the phone. The court reporter loved the baby’s interjections!

2. Understood my own limitations. I didn’t reenter the trial world until Baby Zipp the Second was ten months old. By then, he was regularly emptying the dishwasher, in charge of cleaning the bathrooms, and generally contributing to the smooth operation of the household. His older brother was three, able to pour himself a bowl of cereal in the morning, and fold his own laundry. So life had become, in a word, seamless.

3. Gave in. I am a whole person, not a trial robot.  Once, after winning a case, I picked up my child from day care, looked at him and realized he could care less. He did not care that I won. He would not care if I lost. It’s nice to have somebody in your life who does not give a fig about your professional successes or failures. My somebodies are my kids, and I can only compartmentalize them so much. Look, you can skip the Tuesday bath, and maybe the Wednesday bath, but by Thursday, you gotta do the bath. Having to attend to the minutiae of non-work areas of our lives can help in terms of gaining a little perspective, as well as a reprieve. 


4. 
Worked sick. Generally speaking, working sick is more practical than trying to work when the child is sick. When the child is sick, someone has to stay at home.  When mom is sick, mom can power through. (Except once I had pneumonia and couldn’t work. So I didn’t – see Item 2.)

*

My boss’ question was ridiculous. If only I had had the presence of mind of former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder (D-CO), I would have told him, “I have a brain and I have a uterus and fortunately, they both work.”

This blog post was authored by Rebecca Zipp

 

Tags:  balance  blog  kids  lawyer  LCB  My So-Called First-World Problems  working mom 

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