How do you feel about the concept of ‘having it all’? It’s a contentious issue, especially in the legal sector. Whilst seemingly a promising professional career choice for women with almost two thirds of law graduates being female, only just over a quarter of partners in private practice are women (2017). A Law Society review in 2010 found that an absence of flexibility in working practices in many law firms was keeping women from moving into senior positions, and gender pay gap reporting last year revealed that there is still a long way to go before equality is reached in the legal profession. All this evidence would seem to suggest that the idea of being able to forge a top-flight legal career whilst raising a family is more of a fantasy than a fact. The statistics can’t lie of course, but in this blog I’d like to dispel that myth. Although there are obviously obstacles that make it harder for women to succeed in legal careers whilst bringing up children, it is absolutely possible for them to achieve – if they believe in themselves – both in their own personal values and goals, and in their own agency.
Having it all is not about being some kind of superwoman – striving for generic, idealised perfection is hugely stressful and most probably counter-productive. Having it all is about identifying what makes YOU happy and fulfilled and creating your own path. If you set your own standards and identify your motivating values and principles, you can take control of your own destiny. You have skills to use and choices to make. You just need to learn to believe that YOU are in the driving seat of your career and family life, and that YOU deserve to be there.
1. Examine any inhibiting beliefs you may have about parenting and having it all in your legal career.
What’s your current internal narrative? Do you think the only way to be a good mum is to “always be there”? Do you remember a happy childhood with a stay at home mum? Do you feel that kids of full-time lawyer mums are missing out, and that those of stay at home mums are somehow happier, cleverer, more likely to succeed in life? Do you often think to yourself, “you can’t have it all?” Our beliefs about parenting and having it all are shaped by our culture (what we are told and see around us growing up), our personal experiences and the media. The first step to believing is understanding and identifying our current attitudes and feelings about being a working parent in a challenging industry. Free yourself from beliefs that hold you back.
2. Recognise that these are beliefs and not facts.
Try to overcome your confirmation bias (we all tend to notice and focus on information that reinforces what we already believe to be true) and then consciously seek out evidence to the contrary. For example, if you suspect only kids of stay at home mums have happy childhoods, find someone you know who had a working mum and a fantastic childhood and talk to them about it. If you keep thinking you can’t possibly balance a successful legal career with a contented family life, find a role model in your field who is already ‘having it all’ – there are lots of inspiring leading female lawyers out there to choose from. (I look further at the importance of role models in this blog). Use their qualities and successes to inspire your beliefs. Look up reports that show positive outcomes for children with working parents. (This major study by Harvard Business School in 2015 is motivational).
3. Keep an open mind and question everything.
When you hear that familiar inner voice whispering negative messages, or people around you or the media putting out negative stories about working mums in the legal sector, start by questioning (I talk more about the importance of questioning in this blog here): Is this completely true? What and where is the evidence for this? How can I find out more? What is my/the speaker’s/the article’s agenda? If you’re someone who is easily swayed by headlines and rumour, read Bad Science by Ben Goldacre to help you get a better perspective on what you are hearing or reading.
4. Understand that nurturing positive beliefs can have a powerful impact on your experience.
Renowned social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s ground-breaking work studies the broaden and build theory of positive emotions. Her findings suggest that positive thinking broadens and expands your mind and sense of possibility, which in turn leads to more adventurous behaviour. Over time, more exploratory and adventurous actions lead to the growth of meaningful, long-term skills, which in turn foster more positive emotions. It’s a win-win. Check out her book on Positivity.
5. Repeat positive affirmations.
Make a choice to have positive beliefs about balancing parenting with a successful legal career by creating and repeating (preferably out loud, every day) powerful affirmations – short positive statements written in the first person and present tense that express your goal as if it were already true. Here are some of mine (feel free to use them!): “I am living the dream of having and enjoying it all.” “The happier and more fulfilled I am, the more I have to give to my family.” “There is no right or wrong way to have it all. There is only my way.”
When it comes down to it, ‘having it all’ means achieving your goals by living your work and family life on your own terms, to your own agenda and according to your own values. The positive and assertive mindset required to do this ultimately depends on your ability to believe in yourself. Too many high-achieving women (myself included) have depended on external validation as evidence of what they can achieve or how good they are, not realising that the true power lies within. It’s not easy and requires hard work and dedication, but once you learn to believe in yourself, anything is possible. As Henry Ford famously said:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t; you’re right!”
Believe you can, and the battle is half won.
For some excellent advice on how to change your mindset to believe in yourself and have it all, read “Mindset – Updated Edition: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential” by Carol Dweck. Write and let me know how you get on!
Caroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at email@example.com