A younger friend of mine who got retained at a top tier law firm once reached out to me for advice. Her issue, “I have been retained at my firm, but I am not sure I can stay. I am getting married in a few months and I think with the demands of the job, going by my service year experience, I cannot successfully meet the demands of work and my marriage”.
I have since found out that there are many more like her who are battling this confusion. Many female lawyers grapple with this seeming competition between various aspects of life and in some cases, female lawyers feel, short-changed, disappointed or, putting it in one word, like failures when they have to review or make choices between career success and success in other aspects of life.
There is no doubt that the demands which make for progression and career success seem to be at loggerheads with other aspects of our lives, be it marriage, raising children, bonding with family, hobbies and leveraging personal ambitions; however, I think the origination of the issue lies first with how we think about career success vis-à-vis the other aspects of our lives.
Often times, the phrase “work-life balance” is used to describe the rule of thumb that we should adhere to, implying that there is a world called work and another called life that you should strive to balance. I would like to think that it is not the complete story.
There is no such thing as a world of work which is distinct and separate from the other aspects of our life. Work is part of your life and is not to be rated differently in the course of decision making and prioritisation.
In other words, there should not be a time when you esteem work and jeopardise personal well-being. Let me clarify, life in general, often demands that we make sacrifices and prioritise options, the cost of embracing a decision may be equal to a loss of another opportunity; Work should not be that option that obviates the relevance of the others.
Your wholeness and total wellbeing is crucial and career success which does not take this into context is a pyrrhic victory. For many, this has been the gateway to grave unhappiness.
That said, one cannot ignore, the gross disservice that women generally and young female lawyers have to endure for prioritising personal well-being when it is necessary. In some cases, they are literally punished, undergoing pay cuts, delayed promotions, poorer pay, general disregard and stereotyping and worst but by no means the least, abuse.
The stories are numerous, and it is important that personnel managers in the legal services industry review the ethos of their organisations to accommodate the peculiarities that managing female personnel entails without detriment to them.
It is also important that compliments be served on organisations who have taken the effort to create systems which ease the process of assimilation and growth and increasingly so, many organisations are setting up human resources infrastructure which enable women achieve efficiency with work.
In one organisation, women returning to work after maternity need not bat an eyelid about the wellbeing of their infants, there is a creche provided to facilitate better oversight of their children while at work. In another, nursing mothers can work from home where it is necessary for them to personally oversee their family affairs. These options are not only commendable, they are necessary.
In the next paragraphs, I will elaborate on certain tips that young female lawyers can adopt to improve the quality of their lives and achieve a world which they can claim is balanced but I will like to emphasise that the responsibility for your wellness lies with you and it is your ultimate duty to ensure that you prioritise personal well being in the course of your career decisions.
As such, it is important to properly review the stakes you have to face at each point in time and ensure that you are not jeopardising personal well being for career advancement; they work hand in hand.
I will also like to single out the elephant in the room and probably the largest competitor; dealing with work after marriage and childbirth. For many female young lawyers, the demands of juggling responsibilities when pregnant, raising toddlers could be very challenging.
Numerous young female lawyers have quit practice because of the pressure of work at this point; in some cases, they have done so prematurely and unnecessarily. It is important that we are more cautious to review our options and not set unnecessary limits when all that we need is proper prioritisation.
You do not have to lose your family because you want to get ahead with work. The balls are always in motion, whether it be work, family, hobbies, ambition. You need to keep them all in order and I share some tips below:
Prioritisation: Learning to prioritise is a critical tip for attaining success. As you are at the beginning stages of your career, you may be finding it difficult to deal with new tasks and the learning curve may be long.
It is important that you learn to decipher what is important to do per time and apply your energy circumspectly. Often, we complain about the system but our stress stems from a failure to prioritise responsibility and do the right thing when necessary.
Speak Up tactfully: In her book “Lean In”, Sheryl Sandberg tells the story of how she had to grapple with grossly inconvenient parking while pregnant and how it was only then that she realised that there was need for management to review how parking was laid out to accommodate the need for pregnant women to have shorter walks to the office.
Until she was a “victim” she did not know there was a problem despite being a leader in the organisation. Sometimes, championing the review of gaps or advocating better way of doing things may just be the difference between your sanity and total disorder. Please note that this is not a licence to be rude, make inordinate requests or declare war on your organisation.
The ultimate goal of improving the quality of life of personnel is the success of the organisation. It is a win-win situation where there are solutions which make delivery at work more efficient. Tactfully communicate your suggestions, preferably through the human resources department (where applicable) or the personnel managers within the organisation and detail the benefits that it would yield. It is not mandatory that it is adhered to but often times, change starts because someone takes responsibility to speak up and change the status quo.
Get help and delegate smartly: Being in more than one place per time is often restricted to sci-fi and thriller movies but the way some young female lawyers live begs the belief that they are omnipresent. One is set up for failure when she thinks she can handle every single task that is required for a seamless day.
Where feasible, rely on help from family, outsource duties as is necessary to enable full concentration at work (or at home) when your attention is required. In getting help, be careful to ensure that the delegation is done to persons who are capable of handling the tasks with minimal risk of negligence or recourse to you.
Watch yourself and reflect periodically: Success is wholesome, there is no successful career woman who is happy to manage ill health stemming from improper management of her health and vice versa. The demands of work could be intense, and you barely have time to think but think you must! It is important to review and ensure that you are living optimally.
i.e. balancing your efforts in all aspects of your life to ensure fulfilment of your objectives. This means that you take responsibility to assess your life progression from time to time and if there is an area where you have been negligent, take corrective measures, like, a holiday, additional time with family, applying time limits to work periodically, exercise and indulgence in hobbies and other activities that make you happy. The truth is that you deliver better when your personal wellbeing and career advancement are well aligned.
Build networks: It is International Women’s day on the 8th of March 2019, do not stay holed up at work; take some time out to share with other women and learn from them, there is a lot to gain, when you progress in a troop. We all have several tricks and you could get a lifehack that could literally change your life moving in these networks. More than ever before, there are thriving female networks addressing the challenges women face at work, leverage on them.
Balance can be achieved, do not give up just yet. Happy International Women’s Day!
OYEYEMI ADERIBIGBE is a Senior Associate at Templars. She is also the current Vice-Chairman of the Young Lawyers’ Forum of the Nigerian Bar Association -Section on Business Law and the Young Lawyers’ Committee Liaison Officer of the African Regional Forum of the International Bar Association.
SIDE NOTE: I will like to say thank you to the Management of BusinessDay and specifically to Ms. Theodora Kio-Lawson who have given me this platform. The Young Business Lawyer is 1 (one) today and I thank them for this privilege to air my thoughts. My gratitude also goes to the several readers who have also taken time out to read and share their feedback.