Make Room for Working Mothers

Quarles & Brady LLP was recently recognized as among the Best Law Firms for Women 2013 by Working Mother magazine and consulting firm Flex-Time Lawyers. Janine Landow-Esser explains how the firm offers its working mothers generous time off and leave policies, child care and flexibility to attract, retain and develop its female talent.

In addition to being a partner at the firm, Landow-Esser leads the firm’s National Diversity and Inclusion Committee, where she drafts the diversity and inclusion business plan and ensures it is fully integrated into the firm’s overall strategic goals. Through her leadership position, Landow-Esser regularly discusses and brainstorms new diversity and inclusion initiatives, where the firm’s working mothers remain at the forefront.

Below are excerpts from a recent conversation Landow-Esser had with Diversity Executive magazine.

How can companies accommodate working mothers?

Many surveys show that many working mothers would rather have work flexibility and time at home than salary increases — at least at certain points during their careers. Thus, a company that wants to design an attractive workplace should look for as many opportunities as possible to create alternative work situations for their working mothers. For instance, part time, work from home, job sharing, or just flexible hours for a full-time schedule. One size does not fit all, so designing individual plans often makes the most sense. Generally speaking, working mothers remain fully dedicated to getting their work done and pleasing their clients, and they will truly appreciate the ability to juggle their home and work lives without having to hide the juggling from their employers.

Why should companies make these accommodations for working mothers?

Women make up a huge percentage of the workforce in most industries. Each new hire must be trained and brought up to speed on her job, her clients and other aspects of her work. If companies don’t support working mothers by creating a flexible workplace, their attrition rates will be higher and their morale will be lower — this translates into lost revenue, and unhappy clients and customers. It simply makes sense to recognize the realities of the modern workforce and to adjust appropriately by building more flexibility into the work environment.

What are some aspects of your company’s flexibility that you most appreciate?

Years ago, Quarles & Brady put into place several policies intended to make our law firm an attractive place to work. Among them, for example, our lawyers have the ability to design, along with their supervisors, flexible schedules so that they can work less than full-time schedules, work full-time but from home, adjust the hours of their work day, and/or “ease back” into their schedules after they have a child. We also provide generous parental leave for new mothers and fathers. We have backup child care arrangements in each office, and we have a “quiet room” in each office for new mothers. In order to make sure that our policies are meeting the needs of our lawyers, we survey them periodically and update policies as needed.

What is your advice to mothers in an inflexible work environment, and how can working mothers advocate for a change in workplace culture?

It is unusual for change to occur without one or more vocal advocates seeking that change. Someone must be willing to speak out and ask for a more flexible work environment, working with management to accomplish the goal. In many cases, the advocacy may come from a women’s affinity group or employee resource group, since these groups often have sponsors within senior management. In the best-case scenario, companies will have the pulse of their workers, will listen to their requests, and will make adjustments. Those companies that refuse to be flexible will probably experience higher attrition rates as their working moms take their skills to other, more open-minded employers.

Jessica DuBois-Maahs is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.