If you’re a woman in the law, it’s likely you know exactly what the Mommy Track is—the career path for women who devote time to raising children and end up being overlooked for promotions and raises.
Plenty of lawyers resign themselves to the inevitability of the Mommy Track and never figure out how to get off it.
But accepting the Mommy Track doesn’t work for many women lawyers and their goals. Unfortunately, though, once a woman has pulled back a bit on her career to raise a family, it can be hard to avoid that track and continue the pre-motherhood career trajectory of steady advancement. It takes planning, intention, and tenacity, but it can be done.
Take Credit for a Well-Planned Leave
A key part of avoiding the Mommy Track begins before you’re even a mother: planning for and executing a seamless maternity leave and return. Build maternity leave into your annual review process while you’re pregnant and make it clear to the partners at your firm that your goal is a smooth transition into, and then back from, your time away. Then, when you return, take credit for everything you did to make your transition back to work a success. Having this to point to once you’ve returned will remind your superiors that you’re capable and trustworthy.
While they might intend only to be thoughtful, those who assume on your behalf that you don’t have as much time as you did pre-baby are doing you and your career a disservice. And on top of that, many in the legal industry assume that a lawyer with children is less serious about her work. (The same assumption is rarely made about fathers.) It’s up to you to make sure both your colleagues and your superiors know that’s not the case.
Once you’re back in the office full time, you’re going to need to be vigilant about being included in anything relevant to your work, including meetings, calls, and every bit of information you would have been given pre-baby. Do your best to make sure no one is making decisions for you without consulting you first. Have as many one-on-one conversations with everyone you need to in order to ensure you’re being heard. Speak up immediately if you believe you’re being given lesser assignments and being treated as if you are no longer at the same level you were before you had a child.
Back Up Promises with Stellar Work
The most effective way to prove you’re just as capable as you were before having children? Backing up your promises with stellar work. The first few months back will be rife with challenges, whether you’re returning to directly to work after maternity leave or returning to full time after a temporary part-time schedule. The reality is simple: If you want to be treated as you were before you had a baby, you need to perform as you did before you had a baby. Just how to do that varies from lawyer to lawyer, of course, and will take time to figure it out.
Take Advantage of Work Perks
While it’s still one of the more challenging fields for mothers, the legal industry is starting to become more hospitable to those seeking work-life balance. As such, there are plenty of firms and companies that offer perks for parents, like reduced face-time requirements or on-site childcare, for instance. Take advantage of whatever parent-friendly policies your employer offers. Anything you can leverage to help you stay on top of responsibilities at work and at home during this challenging time will go a long way.
Connect with Others
As with so many other facets of being a lawyer and a parent, finding others who have been in your shoes is invaluable. It doesn’t need to take a significant amount of time or effort to connect with other mothers who’ve successfully escaped the Mommy Track, but it can be extremely helpful to learn from someone who’s been there. The return from maternity leave or back to a full-time schedule after a reduced one is a critical time in a woman lawyer’s career; any and all support can make a big difference.
If you’re newly expecting, start your pre-leave planning now. In the next two to three months, identify your support team and how you’ll handle the hand-off of clients to those who will take care of them while you’re out. Consider how much contact you’ll want with the office while you’re out, before you officially begin working again. Plan with as much detail you can.