It is a well-known fact that women in business are frequently treated differently to their male counterparts. If you are a female lawyer then you’re sure to have been asked at least some of the following questions throughout your career: When are you planning on having a family? Does your husband mind you being so successful? Or, how do manage work and a family?
These questions are rarely (if ever) directed towards successful male lawyers.
Negotiating for your rights (both within the workplace and at home) can be difficult; no matter how successful you are at negotiating deals for clients, trying to broker a deal for more time, help, or space at home can be awkward and tricky, leading to long debates about who has what role and why.
The following tips will help you to assert a positive negotiating position, so that you can negotiate on your own behalf with family, friends, partners and children.
Most women are fantastic accommodators who frequently say ‘yes’ to taking on multiple tasks on top of their already busy schedules. This might be something as seemingly harmless as joining the school PTA, or being asked to give an impromptu talk to visiting law students at your firm.
Saying ‘yes’ to all these requests might seem like a good idea at the time, but saying yes too often, can lead some to think of you as being a bit of a pushover.
By viewing each question posed to you as a form of negotiation, you can begin to work on refining your requirements, establishing your terms and ultimately, get what you want, and what’s best for you.
If you struggle saying ‘no’, try using it in response to some of the smaller requests to begin with until you are comfortable with it. Or, offer a ‘maybe’, but ask for something in return that will help you at a later date.
The reason many of us fail to achieve our goals is because we find it hard to ask for what we want.
Many women find it difficult to ask for a raise, a promotion, an opportunity to try something new. But by refusing to ask for what we want, we tend to miss chances when they arise.
For example, if you’ve been asked to take on a new role at your law firm (but feel that you can’t accept due to family commitments) try asking for a flexible work pattern that allows you to work from home two days a week.
Start asking for what you want and be prepared to get it!
In a husband and wife partnership, where both parties are working full-time, it is vital that housework, children and family tasks get shared equally.
This doesn’t mean that your husband drops the kids off and you pick them up – we all know that dropping them is the easy task – it means that you must negotiate your requests with your significant other, state what you want, how it can work and what benefits there will be for all involved.
Sharing chores, childcare, shopping, and so on, will all help to give you a more balanced home role enabling you to focus on your priorities in any given moment
There is a level of resistance in women to ask for what they want, and to being an agent for themselves. Some even fear that it comes across as self-centredness or greediness.
This is because women have had so few female role models in the past who have set an example of how to negotiate on your own behalf.
Most of the women I know consider that their primary role models in this sense were fathers, or uncles. Mothers often told daughters “only ask for something if you feel you deserve it” or worse, “it’s not polite to ask”. These days, this type of thinking will only limit your ability to reach your goals.
Be a role model for your children (especially your daughters). Teach them the value of negotiating for their rights and opinions, and how to ask for what they want.
Women lawyers frequently work just as hard as men, however, we don’t always play as hard.
Avoiding after-hours socialising can have a detrimental effect on your career path, as this is often where deals are made and secured.
Plan to attend some after-hours gatherings, show up at networking breakfasts, and go to the office Christmas party as this will help your political game.
Many female lawyers around the globe chose to work flexible hours, or part-time, in order to have a day or so a week where they can fit in all the other errands required when running a household and working.
As stated above in the section ‘share and share alike’ most of these tasks need to be completed in partnership with your husband or partner.
Of course, there are times when this isn’t possible and that is when women will consider working part-time in order to have a day free to complete these errands. However, you’ll probably find that you spend most of your day off sending emails and completing briefs that you didn’t have time to finish in your four day week
It is worth persisting with the full-time employment and managing your errands within office hours. For instance, take an early lunch on Friday to get your nails done, book dentist appointments for the kids in the evening, and order your food shop online to be delivered once you’re home from work.
This doesn’t mean you need to divorce your husband.
What it does mean is that you are likely to need help with everything that is going on in your life; someone to manage appointments, clean the house, organise the children and so on. This is especially true for those who are single parents.
The best candidate for the job is someone who is organised, can multi-task, is happy to ‘muck in’ with chores, cooking and children, and who is able to organise your home life so it complements your work life rather than clashes with it.
To be taken seriously in the legal world it is usually necessary to look the part, both in the office and out of it.
While dress codes in general have become more relaxed over the last ten years, it is worth considering the truth in the premise that we often judge book by its cover.
If you are struggling to make head way with a pay rise, are overlooked in promotions, or aren’t taken seriously by partners or other associates, it might be worth changing your appearance and dressing to impress.
Becoming a partner in a law firm is not every female lawyer’s dream, but if it is something you desire you’ll need to carefully consider the advice given above in order to achieve your ambitions.
If becoming a partner isn’t number one on your to do list, the advice can still help you to be more successful and satisfied, both at work at home.