Capital District Women's Bar Association promotes discussion of leave, flex time
CAPITAL REGION More men are taking advantage of parental leave at local law firms, where job sharing, flex time and telecommuting also are being offered, and used.
The results were released Wednesday as part of the Capital District Women’s Bar Association’s updated study of workplace leave policies of the region’s 50 largest law firms. Only 24 responded.
The bar association said the results showed modest progress, but the work is far from over to expand awareness of alternative work options and provide information for employers.
Other results showed 58 percent of policies were unwritten and determined on a case-by-case basis, which provides for flexibility but provides little guidance, according to the CDWBA. Some of the firms that had written policies had low usage rates.
Thirty-seven percent of firms had employees take unpaid leave and 54 percent had employees take paid leave. Family care issues are not being relegated to just women. Men are sharing the load as more firms offered paid leave to male attorneys, rising from three firms in 2004 to 10 firms in 2010.
The CDWBA said it will update the study in 2015 and hopes to see more gains, such as more parity in leave benefits and usage between men and women, more written leave policies, and alternative work schedules becoming a widely accepted path to becoming a law firm partner.
CDWBA President Susan Taylor said work place flexibility issues transcend the law sector and hit especially hard for the in-between group, which she defined as those who have children at home but also have aging parents. Taylor is an assistant attorney general in the Environmental Protection Bureau of state Attorney General’s Office.
“It affects every adult who’s in a professional setting.” Taylor said. “These issues affect everyone. They affect our spouses and partners who are not lawyers and particularly in a down economy and in a changing environment where there are more families that have two working spouses, these solutions are absolutely critical and necessary.”
Taylor also said unfortunately there is still a level of secrecy involved at some places of employment when it comes to maternity leave and alternative options. She said it’s something she encountered more than a decade ago.
“I was the first pregnant associate at two law firms in the Capital District and for each of them, I had to figure out with them what the policy would be,” she said. “That’s surprising for the late ’90s and 2000s, don’t you think?”
Taylor said the alternative workplace option is a pervasive issue that will crop up in more workplaces in upcoming years with younger employees.
Employees should keep the lines of communication open while advocating for flex time and workplace leave, according to Deborah Epstein Henry, founder of Flex-Time Lawyers LLC. Henry was one of many speakers who presented at CDWBA’s event.
Employers should also remember that “Your practice is your policy, even though it’s not written,” she said.
The White House recently took a look at flex time issues, with a Workplace Flexibility Conference held March 31, which was attended by local resident Kim Lloyd, senior vice-president of marketing and operations at BrightHub.com in Troy.
First lady Michelle Obama told the story of how she managed being a working mother and struggled to balance the needs of her career with the demands of family life. She also praised the employers present for offering “compressed work weeks, generous leave time, and mentoring programs that connect new parents or caregivers with folks who’ve been through it before.”
BrightHub.com is an online media company providing science, technology, mobile education and family articles averaging 10 million page views a month.
“We have lots of different content to help people understand how technology and trends are impacting their lives,” Lloyd said.
The company oversees a freelance community of more than 1,000 part-time writers and editors, many of whom are work-from-home mothers.
As a startup company mostly backed by venture capital, Lloyd said BrightHub can’t afford to compete with larger companies that can spend more on salaries to attract talent.
“One of the benefits we tout is ‘Work from home Wednesdays,’ ” she said. “We’re very flexible. We’re trying to let people balance and fit in. That becomes a competitive advantage for us.”