Insights (Blog) - Diversity & Flexibility Alliance

Action Step –
Supporting Parents Returning From Leave

The Alliance’s Action Steps are designed to assist organizations with implementing practical strategies and policies related to diversity and flexibility.  Members can access full versions of all of the Alliance’s Action Steps in the Member Resource Center.

Organizations need to support parents before, during, and after parental leave in order to retain top talent. In last month’s Action Step, Providing the Right Support Before Parental Leave, we discussed the need to support employees prior to parental leave by communicating available resources and policies, creating a systematic procedure for the transition of work, and utilizing existing and targeted programs to provide assistance. When employees return from parental leave, it’s crucial to ensure they receive adequate flexibility, guidance, and support to transition back to work successfully.

To help employees have smooth transitions back to work and avoid unwanted attrition, organizations should implement formal on-ramping and flexible work policies to help parents find their own work-life control, create a culture of acceptance for on-ramping policies through leadership promotion and education, and provide support through community, mentorship and guidance. By focusing on these key areas – Formal Policies, Culture of Acceptance, and Support & Resources – organizations can create smooth and seamless transitions back to work for parents. While the framework discussed in this action step focuses transition back to work from parental leave, organizations can apply these best practices for any family or medical leave or sabbatical.

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Spotlight on Flex – Kelsey Morris

The Spotlight on Flex showcases professionals from member organizations who exemplify personal and professional success while working a flexible schedule. Their stories illustrate the long-term benefits that flexible schedules offer to both individuals and organizations.

 

For July 2018, we are pleased to share insights from Kelsey Morris, Associate, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (Irvine, CA)

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success through your schedule?

Kelsey Morris: Right after law school, I started at Akin Gump’s LA office, and I was there from 2011-2015. I left to complete a one year, federal clerkship with the US District Court for the Central District of California. My daughter was born right at the end of my clerkship in 2016. At this point, I was at a crossroads in my career – I knew I wanted to continue practicing and spend the most time I could with my daughter while she was young. I just didn’t see a path forward at big law that would meet those needs at the time. I decided to start teaching legal writing at USC law school and took on projects as an independent contractor to keep up my legal practice. I was doing this for about five months when a former colleague from Akin Gump called and asked if I would join the litigation practice in the firm’s Irvine, CA office. My daughter was almost a year old, and I had a clearer vision of how I wanted to practice law and how much time I wanted to be available for my family versus work. I knew I wanted to come back and how I wanted to come back.

Akin Gump, and particularly the partners in Irvine, graciously worked with me to find the right arrangement. This year, I am working at a 60% reduced hours schedule and come into the office at least three days a week. It may not be a traditional schedule, but I make sure I’m fully present when I’m here, and I’m logged in and available remotely the rest of the week.

My flex success doesn’t just originate with me – without the practical support and understanding of my colleagues in Irvine, this wouldn’t work. For my part, though, I think success comes from mentally committing to my schedule. I was fortunate to have worked for senior women who were on flex schedules when I first started at the firm, and they were open with me about what flex looked like for them. I learned that for the sake of yourself and your work, you have to commit to your flex schedule – whatever that may look like. Someone on a 60% reduced hours schedule can’t take on the same case load as someone working at 100% and then still only work 60%. It doesn’t work that way. You have to communicate your schedule from the beginning and mentally note that you took a pay cut for the reduced hours. When you take on too much, you’re doing a disservice to yourself, the firm, and your clients. You also confuse your colleagues because they won’t know how much work they can and should be giving you. When you make a commitment to flex, you make it fairer for everybody.

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Are Your Organization’s Flexibility Goals Backed By Data?

There’s no doubt we live in a data-driven world. If you don’t have good data, you may not be making good decisions.

As an organization that collaborates with firms and corporations on diversity and flexibility initiatives, we at the Alliance always advise our members to gather data by tracking, monitoring and assessing their programs to ensure their ongoing success. If you don’t track and quantify, you’ll never know if your policy is meeting the needs of your employees and is successfully improving your bottom line. Success in the area of flexibility really translates to the recruitment and retention of engaged, fulfilled, effective and diverse talent.

We also take our own advice to heart. We couldn’t provide the advice that we do without backing it up with sound data. Over the last five years we’ve been able to advise our members on the challenges, opportunities and future trends in flexibility in the legal industry by surveying top US law firms. Initially, our benchmarking survey revolved around whether firms actually had a written flexibility policy. The survey has evolved to include expanded questions on different types of flexibility and leave policies offered and the types of employees, by race, gender, sexual orientation and position, who actually use the policy. For example, do attorneys on a partnership track feel comfortable telecommuting? Are those returning from caregiver leave provided support, tools and fair compensation? Does the firm use surveys, interviews, evaluations and pilot programs to ensure that the program is meeting the needs of its employees?

In particular, our survey seeks to help firms uncover and remove biases and thereby allows them to offer policies that can truly impact the success of their business. Firms that participate in our survey are able to benchmark themselves against others in the industry and uncover the gaps in their policies and its usage.

We recently released the results of our 2017 Law Firm Flexibility Benchmarking Survey. The survey, which is available in full to our members and participant firms, (the Executive Summary is available to everyone else) allows us to take a glimpse at the state of the legal industry and predict the most important trends we see moving forward.

From the data, we’re able to advise law firms on how they can lead the industry in recruitment and retention of top talent. Whether it’s through increasing the types of leave policies and expanding their reach, offering extra compensation and additional support following a leave, or simply creating a more inclusive environment that ensures a culture that embraces flexibility, firms that want to meet the needs of the workforce of the future need to be on top of the current trends.

Our Annual Conference on September 27 will highlight the latest research and trends in flexibility and provide attendees with the key steps to take to truly embrace flexibility and its benefits. Register to join us today.