Spotlight on Flex – Eve Howard

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.

Eve HowardThis month, we are pleased to share insights from Eve Howard, Partner in the Washington, DC office of Hogan Lovells US LLP. Ms. Howard is a 2013 Flex Success Award Honoree and a member of the Alliance’s Advisory Council.

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made work-life control a priority and a success with your schedule?

Eve Howard: With a flexible schedule I’m able to devote more time to non-work-related things that are important to me, including my family and outside interests. However, my goal is that my schedule never interferes with the service I provide to my clients, my relationship with colleagues at the firm, or with the firm as a whole. If a client calls with an emergency on a day I’m not in the office, it doesn’t mean that it’s not my problem to deal with. Part of the success of my schedule is learning to recognize what’s a true crisis and what’s not – this comes with experience.

I’ve been at a 75% schedule for most of the past 14 years; I’m generally in the office four days and off on Wednesdays. However, months can go by where I don’t take a Wednesday off, but I’ll use another day that works better for current client or firm demands to stick to my arrangement. Having Wednesdays off creates a nice break in the middle of the week, and if I’m unavailable for a part of that day, it’s usually not too difficult to deal with things a day later (as opposed to three days later if my day out of the office were a Friday). Hogan Lovells has been fully supportive of my schedule, and I’ve been duly compensated for times I’ve worked more than my agreed upon hours. In other words, I never felt penalized by my schedule in terms of compensation or opportunities. Flexibility is the key component of a successful arrangement, both on my part and the part of the firm.

DFA: How has the firm supported flexibility?

EH: Hogan Lovells has been at the forefront of promoting flex success, and I’m lucky to work at this type of firm. I Co-Chair the Alternative Work Arrangements Committee (which has been in place for over 10 years). This Committee formalizes best practices, policies around flexible work arrangements, and has made great strides in debunking flex stigma. You can work a reduced hours schedule and be just as committed to the firm, continue to build and grow a practice, and do other things that enrich your life at the same time.

In addition to the Committee’s work, Hogan has started a major global initiative, Project Redefine, which is a broad look at what we can do better as a firm for the benefit of our clients and people. I Co-Chair one of these initiatives called Agile Working, which seeks to implement a firm-wide philosophy for flexible working – any person, in any office, doing any job, can, if needed, have some sort of flexible work arrangement within the job’s parameters. The firm and I believe this is an increasingly important component to attracting and retaining the best talent. The Agile Working initiative within Project Redefine will be rolled out throughout 2015.

DFA: What would you do differently or tell your first year associate self?

EH: One cautionary note to this answer – everyone has their own personal circumstances: how much family support they have regarding childcare; financial issues; the stage of their career; type of practice, etc. In my particular circumstance, I would not have resisted moving to a flexible schedule for as long as I did. I believe it was important for me to put in the long hours when I was a very junior associate to build my skill sets and expertise – there’s no shortcut to this, and it takes a lot of time and energy. However, as a young partner and when my kids were really young, I wasn’t able to sustain a full-time practice at the level I wanted and do all that I needed to do at home. During those years, I was able to do good work and continue to build up an expertise, but it needed to be on a modified schedule. If I could go back, I would give myself a break during those years and stop trying to keep up with colleagues who were rising in the professional development and leadership ranks.

If you’re doing good work and providing value, as your life situation changes, you will likely have the time and energy again to devote to growing and developing your career (as opposed to merely sustaining it). In this new era of advanced technology, I believe it’s a lot easier to build a career on a flex schedule than it was 20 years ago.

I would also tell myself to multi-task less; stay single focused! When I’m working, I try to be as efficient as possible and not be distracted by all the other things going on around me. Likewise, when I’m not working, I’m able to enjoy what I’m doing and leave work out of my mind. I know this is hard to do. But constantly worrying about what you’re not or could be doing takes a toll on you physically and mentally. With experience, I’ve learned to be more present in the moment – this is what keeps me grounded.

DFA: How do you recharge, and how do you pay it forward?

EH:  I switched to a reduced hours schedule when I was about to have my third son, and I had 4 and 6 year old boys already at home. I was exhausted and felt there was no way I could continue to do my job. I packed up my desk before I left for maternity leave and didn’t think I would come back. During my leave, I had time to think, and I knew I wasn’t ready to completely give up my career. I was fortunate to have great child care, and I knew my kids were in good hands. I wanted to try a reduced hours schedule, tackle the stereotypes, and see what would happen.

Because of my personal experience, I’m very committed to promoting flex schedules and agile working. For example, with Project Redefine, the hope is to attract and retain a deeper talent pool of candidates who might otherwise leave a law firm (like I was about to do). I also really enjoy mentoring – this is a very rewarding part of my day because I get to know and interact with the younger associates, share my story, and hopefully be a role model for them as they deal with their own personal circumstances.

My flex schedule has been professionally and personally rewarding. I’m able to do things outside of the firm that have enriched my career such as raising my kids and becoming very involved in independent school boards and governance issues. I believe my external pursuits make me a better lawyer and a more interesting person. I’ve learned so much from these experiences that I would not have been able to have without a flexible schedule.

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If you are an attorney working a flexible schedule and would like to share your story in an upcoming Spotlight on Flex, contact Eliza Musallam.