Our 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 January 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Molly Senger, Of Counsel, Gibson Dunn (Washington, DC).
Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career? How has the firm supported this?
Molly Senger: I came to Gibson Dunn in 2011 as a third year associate after I completed a clerkship with the Honorable John D. Bates at the US District Court for the District of Columbia. I started full time, but after I had my son in January 2016, I came back from maternity leave to a 70% reduced hours schedule. The only formalized aspect of my flex schedule is my reduced hours target; what I’ve learned is you have to be flexible with your time and each day is different. I’m generally in the office every day, but my hours vary depending on what’s happening in the matters I’m working on at the time. I’ve had months in which I’ve had an arbitration and far exceeded full-time hours. But I’ve also had months in which my matters have been relatively quiet, and I’ve been able to take advantage of my flex schedule.
One thing I try to keep in mind with my flex schedule is something one of my mentors told me; “it’s unlikely you’ll find a perfect balance every day, but if you strive for it, you can find the balance you want over the long-term.” Once I started working flex, I made it a priority to be more comfortable saying “no.” I enjoy my work and give 110% to all my matters, and I want to say “yes” to a lot of things. But having been in the position of saying “yes” to too many things, I’ve learned to get over the guilt of saying “no” and figure out the right balance of what I can handle at work while also having time for family, friends, and everything else in life.
Thankfully, Gibson Dunn provides a supportive and easy learning environment for flex. I can change my reduced hours percentage at any time, and the firm does an annual true-up when I exceed my agreed-upon hours. More importantly, my colleagues and the partners I work with have helped me become more comfortable finding the right balance for me. When a partner comes to me with a new matter that I’d love to help with but I’m stretched too thin, I’m upfront about my reasons for saying “no.” I remind them to ask me again when the next new matter arises, and they do! Learning that partners understand and trust the reasons behind your “no” – and that they will come to you again – has made the process of saying “no” much easier.
DFA: How have clients supported your flexibility?
MS: I pride myself on being available whenever my clients need me and giving their matters 110% at all times. Many of the clients I work with don’t know I’m on a flex schedule. But they all know what’s going on in my life; my openness gives us something to bond over. I’m honest (probably to a fault), and I share my scheduling conflicts when they arise (i.e. my son has an ear infection, or I have an event at his school). I find when I share what’s happening in my life outside of work with partners and clients, they share with me too. We’re all people with real lives outside of the office; being open about these things goes a long way towards fostering internal and external relationships.
DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to your overall internal and external development?
MS: Flex has made my career sustainable; I wouldn’t be able to practice law without it. It was invaluable to have role models at the firm to talk with before going on a flex schedule and now to exchange best practices and ideas. I try to pay it forward by mentoring new parents and others thinking about switching to a flex schedule.
DFA: Looking back, what would you tell your first year associate self?
MS: It’s a marathon and not a sprint. You don’t need to do everything and say “yes” to everything. Often, people who say “yes” to too many things end up burning out or becoming overwhelmed and unhappy. You need to look-out for yourself and be mindful of your priorities – what’s working and what’s not. If something isn’t working for you at your job, talk to someone about it. Don’t think the only resolution is you have to find a new job. Gibson Dunn is a firm with flex arrangements, and it’s a place where they really try to make it work for you. Not all firms are like this.
There are never enough hours in the day. But if you like what you do, you should be able to, and can, keep doing it and also have time for the other things that make you happy. So talk to someone, and talk to them early in your career. See what options are available to make it work for you.
DFA: What do you do to relax? How do you pay it forward?
MS: I wish I could say I Soul Cycle or something else healthy, but I like to watch reality TV with my husband while having a glass of wine. When you’re working flexibly and a full-time parent, you always feel like you’re failing at something (or everything!) That’s why I love reality TV so much. You think your life is a mess until you someone sobbing on a reality TV show and you start to think, “You know what? My life is pretty good, and I’m doing OK!”
I love paying it forward with my colleagues. One of my recent case teams included several other working parents, and it’s been great to see our support for each other as we’ve scheduled court appearances and conference calls around doctor’s appointments and birthday parties. We’ve been able to seamlessly cover for each other and make sure the work still gets done – and done well! It’s nice to work with a strong group of like-minded people and start new friendships at work. We all want to pay it forward somehow, and this mentality, along with Gibson’s support of flex, is why I’ve stayed at the firm for so long.
If you are a professional working a flexible schedule and would like to share your story in an upcoming Spotlight on Flex, contact Eliza Musallam.