A new report published by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession sheds light on how parenting impacts the legal careers of mothers and fathers.
“Legal Careers of Parents and Child Caregivers: Results and Best Practices from a National Study of the Legal Profession” reveals that many parents feel having children had a negative impact on their careers.
In a survey of more than 8,000 lawyers, more than half of working mothers (60%) responded they were perceived as less committed to their career by their employers.
“The legal profession is not immune to the ‘motherhood penalty,’” said ABA President Mary Smith. “Research consistently shows it impacts career opportunities, compensation and advancement in this male-dominated field that demands long hours and constant availability. Our profession should be — and can be — the gold standard for achieving workplace equity and equality for the betterment of our families, businesses and society in general.”
The survey of lawyers showed:
- Women are overwhelmingly responsible for what’s happening at home, from arranging child care (65% of mothers vs. 7% of fathers) and scheduling doctor appointments (71% of mothers vs. 9% of fathers) to helping with homework (41% of mothers vs. 12% of fathers).
- Women who are single and caregivers of dependent children experience more disadvantages than any other group, no matter what sector of the legal industry they work in.
- A much higher percentage of mothers compared to fathers experience demeaning comments about being a working parent (61% of mothers vs. 26% of fathers in law firms; 60% of mothers vs. 30% of fathers in other settings).
“Both mothers and fathers struggle to attain full and satisfying legal careers while at the same time trying to achieve work-life balance, but this struggle is particularly difficult for women with children,” wrote former commission chairs Roberta Liebenberg and Stephanie Scharf of the Red Bee Group and former ABA President Paulette Brown, who conducted the research. The research project was co-chaired by Juanita Harris and Michelle Browning Coughlin.
The report recommends policies and best practices to help end the attrition that has long plagued the profession, such as more flexible work options, generous parental leave policies and reduced billable hour requirements.