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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.

August 2020 Spotlight on Flex

For August 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Yingli Wang PhD, Partner, Perkins Coie (Los Angeles, CA).

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

Yingli Wang, PhD: I was born in China and came to the US to attend grad school and study for my PhD with the intention of becoming a professor. I’ve always been fascinated by how things are made or work, and I knew I wanted to find a career path that could merge my training and other interests. I explored patent law because it’s so different from the other legal practice areas; I knew I could combine my analytical and scientific background with my creative interests.

While I was a law student at the University of Washington, I summered at the LA office of Perkins Coie, and after graduating in 2008, I started as an associate here. We were in the height of the recession, and the partners in my practice group were doing everything they could to make sure we had work. I realized early on in my career how important business development is – it gives you security and the ability to control your career. I wanted to see the impact of my work and the results of my efforts.

I focused on building a relationship with our Shanghai office. This meant a lot of international travel and made meeting my annual billable hours difficult. I started to look into a flex schedule because I wanted to show the firm and my partners my value add by cultivating our international relationships. I knew there would be a corresponding pay cut, but I was OK with that. In 2017, I switched to a 70% reduced hours schedule and continued to come to the office every day. Not only was I able to focus on developing key professional relationships, I was able to manage my stress levels and develop expertise in my field.

Perkins Coie considers flexible work as an investment in its professionals because billable hours aren’t the only indication of a person’s value. Supporting flexible work shows trust from the firm and the partners; they believe they’ll receive a return on their investment, and it establishes a foundation to build a long-term future together. And as a testament to that, I made partner in 2019 while working reduced hours.

Because I still travel so much, I don’t feel any different than my peers who bill at 100%. I also appreciate that my partners aren’t strict about face time. With LA traffic, they understand and are flexible too. We all try to be available and responsive when we’re not physically in the office.

DFA: How have the firm and/or clients contributed to your Flex Success®?

YW: My flex schedule doesn’t affect my commitment to my work or my clients. Many of the clients are not local, some are in China and in a different time zone, so my flex schedule really doesn’t matter to them. In fact, flexible hours makes me more motivated to upkeep my international contacts.

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business/professional development opportunities?

YW: I’m less stressed because I don’t have as much pressure weighing on me. I’m not constantly worried about my billable hours; instead I’m able to focus on being a better lawyer, working on business development opportunities, and providing the best service to my clients. It’s also a beneficial way to invest in myself. I can attend conferences and participate in non-billable projects to enhance my skills and build a niche practice in China.

I’m also able to train, mentor, and communicate with our Chinese staff and clients. This is a huge benefit because many of our international clients don’t understand the logistics of the US legal system. It took lots of practice to have a better understanding of clients’ needs so I can provide meaningful information and counseling. With my extensive experience in working with clients from different backgrounds, I’m able to adjust my communication style so my answers are clearly conveyed.

My commitment and early focus on our China practice was recognized in 2018; while I was still Counsel, I took over as the leader for the China patent group in the Shanghai office.

DFA: Looking back, would you do anything differently, or what would you tell your younger self?

YW: I would have considered incorporating a flex schedule sooner because it improves work-life balance.

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

I like training and talking to associates about their career aspirations. I really enjoy being a lawyer – many people with my background don’t think of it as an option, so I’m always more than happy to discuss my career path with others. I want people to know there are options and alternative careers out there, especially for women and scientists. Sometimes we just need a little encouragement and a broader perspective.

I’m happy with what I do and proud of my journey. I’m appreciative of the opportunities and support I’ve received from the firm. I hope my experiences can be a positive example for women in science and immigrants to this country. I want them to understand they can pursue a career in law. I want to speak up and show you can do it – be a trailblazer – you don’t have to wait for someone else to do it before you.

 

 

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.

July 2020 Spotlight on Flex

 

For July 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Samantha Lee, Partner, Wiley Rein (Washington, DC)

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

Samantha Lee: I’m a Wiley Rein lifer; I summered at the firm and have been here ever since. I was pregnant with my son while I was a senior associate, and I assumed I’d return full time post leave as if nothing had changed. But after I had my son, I realized that coming back full time and pretending nothing had changed was definitely not going to work for me! Luckily, there are models of flexible work at the firm to look up to; I knew I needed to take a flexible approach with my return to work in order to maintain my mental health and my personal life, to be able to thrive in a high pressure position, balancing my commitment to client needs, and be active in firm citizenship.

I spoke to the firm’s Professional Development and HR teams to discuss my options – I didn’t know what flexible work would look like for me. The firm was supportive from the very first person I spoke with in both departments, and that support carried through to my practice group leaders (PGL). I was nervous about speaking with my PGLs because they play such a huge role in my professional development at the firm. But their immediate response was unhesitating support. They never questioned my need for flex; it was amazing and so incredibly reassuring that I was making the right choice for my career and for me.

Our nanny was also a grad student at the time, and she had to leave early on certain days for class. This allowed me to become comfortable with saying “no” because I also needed to be respectful of her schedule. The bottom line is that a flexible schedule gave me breathing room and provided the options I needed to come back to the firm after leave. Without it, I would not have stayed and been able to address some of the post-partum issues I was experiencing at the time too.

My original plan in 2017 was to come into the office every day and bill at 80% reduced hours for a year. But I stayed on this schedule for two years until I made partner in January 2020. It’s important to note that my choice to reduce my hours did not delay my path to partnership; I was promoted at the same time as my peers from my summer associate class. Once I became partner, and now that my son is older, I returned to a 100% billable hours schedule.

Even though I’m not on a formal flex schedule anymore, I still rely on flexible work in different ways. Wiley is a firm that recognizes people as people. If there comes a point where I can’t or don’t want to bill at 100%, I know the firm will support me. I know I can (and did) deliver the best quality service and work to my internal and external clients while working reduced hours. I openly share my flexible work experiences with everyone; people need to know they’re supported and shouldn’t feel stigmatized for wanting or needing to work flexibly. I understand why some people in less supportive firms feel the need for secrecy, but I don’t believe in this approach. The more people talk about working flexibly, the more mainstream it becomes.

 

DFA: How have the firm and/or clients contributed to your Flex Success®?

SL: I haven’t needed to address my schedule with clients; it’s just not something that comes up. I managed my reduced hours schedule by working on fewer matters, but I never gave less than 100% to every client. Because our group is so focused on building a talented and sustainable group, it’s easy to rely on a team and give younger associates the opportunity to learn and progress.

The firm has always given me what I needed; I have a great flex success story. I know the firm would support me again and any other attorney looking to incorporate a flex schedule in a heartbeat.

 

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business/professional development opportunities?

SL: By reducing my annual billable target, I was able to focus on firm citizenship and business development opportunities that were important in my career. I was part of the recruiting committee, traveled for on campus interviews, and was able to take the time to speak to law students interested in working at Wiley Rein. Had I been billing at 100%, I would not have been able to do these things.

 

DFA: Looking back, would you do anything differently, or what would you tell your younger self?

SL: I would have spoken up sooner. Once I realized that flexible work was an option and what I needed, I waited too long to ask for it.

 

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

SL: Part of it’s maintaining a flexible schedule and the idea of being kind to yourself in all aspects. For me, that meant being OK with asking for childcare help one weekend a month so I could take time to recharge and focus on me. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. My biggest responsibility is to be transparent, advocate on behalf of flexible work as a resource, and be an example of how it’s a viable option for career success. It can work for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

June 2020 Spotlight on Flex

 

For June 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Catie Romanchek, Partner, Squire Patton Boggs (Cleveland, OH)

 

 

 

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

Catie Romanchek: I started as a summer associate at Squire Patton Boggs (then Squire, Sanders & Dempsey) (“Squire”) during the summer of 2002, became a full-time associate in 2003, and I’ve been here ever since.

I had my first child in 2007, and as I was preparing to return to work after maternity leave, my husband and I decided it would be best for me to work a reduced hours schedule. He had just completed his MBA, was working full time, and was traveling a lot for his sales job. When we were discussing our priorities, we knew that my staying at 100%, full time work at Squire was not the best plan for us. I spoke with my then Practice Group Leader (PGL), Bruce Gabriel, and asked to work a 65% reduced hours schedule and come into the office three days a week. My PGL was very supportive of flex schedules, and he didn’t see a reason why we couldn’t try my schedule out.

At first, returning from leave was difficult because I knew I couldn’t take on as much work as I had before, and my biggest struggle was learning how to step back. The firm and my colleagues were very accepting as I figured out how to manage my new schedule. I didn’t know a lot of people on flex at the time, so it took some trial and error to figure out how to make my new flex schedule work.

Fast forward to present day, and I’m still working reduced hours (and have had two more children since 2007), but now I’m in the office four days a week and telework on Fridays. As my career evolved, my roles within the firm changed too. I was promoted to principal in 2016 and to partner in 2018. My husband still travels extensively for his job so my flex schedule gives me the control I need to be there for my children and balance our crazy schedules while still meeting the demands of my clients as a partner.

DFA: How have the firm and/or clients contributed to your Flex Success®?

CR: Some of my clients are aware of my schedule and are supportive of it too; if they’re able to, they’ll schedule calls and meetings around Fridays because they know that’s my telework day. But I also don’t want my flexibility to weigh on my clients; I’m flexible with them too. I make it clear that I can always rearrange my schedule for their needs. That may mean I switch my telework day for the week, and that’s fine.

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business/professional development opportunities?

CR: I’m very appreciative that Squire has never let my flex schedule inhibit my ability to take advantage of business development opportunities and advance my career. In 2013, I was part of the team that responded to an RFP for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (“MWAA”) that oversees the Dulles and Reagan airports in the DC area. I was included in the RFP based on my experience from working with the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport since 2004. Being part of that RFP team was a huge turning point in my career. Now I work on airport financings all over the country and have developed an expertise on these matters. I really enjoy it, and I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to be part of the team that responded to MWAA. My flexible schedule didn’t exclude my involvement, and more importantly, from being considered to be part of the team. That opportunity really transformed my career and my skills set. I think it’s very important to find ways to continue to grow and evolve in your practice while maintaining your flex schedule.

My flexibility has also provided opportunities for me to develop leadership roles within the firm. I oversee, with another colleague, associate and paralegal evaluations in my practice group in the Cleveland office. I also co-chair the local government team here in Ohio and was asked to be part of a Cleveland office’s business development task force. The latter really opened up opportunities to meet and work with other people outside of my practice group. I really enjoy these roles within the firm, and I feel that working reduced hours has given me the opportunity to take them on.

DFA: Looking back, would you do anything differently, or what would you tell your younger self?

CR: Have confidence that this can be done, and don’t feel like you have to apologize for making decisions that are necessary to make your flex schedule work. When I first started working flexibly, I felt, at times, like I always had to try and “make it work” and would apologize if I couldn’t accept a new matter. I’ve learned that people aren’t looking for apologies; they understand, want to work with you, and with communication, you can make a lot of things work out. It also took me awhile to feel comfortable sharing my schedule with clients. I had to be confident and know I wasn’t giving them any less quality work or service by reducing my hours. I give every client 110% of my focus and service; I just work with fewer of them.

The advances in telecommuting now have made flex arrangements so much easier too. You can work with your colleagues and clients to ensure they’re always receiving high quality service while respecting your flex schedule.

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

CR: I recharge by being with my family and being fully present with my kids. My two girls take piano lessons and helping them practice has given me the opportunity to start playing again myself – this has always been a wonderful outlet for me. They’re also very involved in horseback riding, so we spend a lot of time together outdoors with the horses. We have a lot of fun and learn so much during our weekly time at the stables. I absolutely love watching them become wonderful riders.

Externally, I pay it forward by being active in my church and at my kids’ school. Within the firm, I’m often the point person for interviews to talk about flex options or when younger associates ask about it. I am always happy when I can help Squire incorporate flexibility as a cultural norm. The firm has worked with and supported me throughout my career. I want to help Squire continue to grow in this area and continue to be a leader in the industry on fully accepting and supporting holistic flex.

 

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.

May 2020 Spotlight on Flex

For May 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Heather Wenzel, Partner, Morgan Lewis (Hartford, CT)

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

Heather Wenzel: After graduating from law school in 2005, I started working at a large Connecticut based law firm. But a year in, I realized it was not a good fit. A recruiter called me to interview at what was at the time Bingham McCutchen. The interview process went well, and I started working there in 2007. Since then, Bingham McCutchen combined with Morgan Lewis, and that combined firm is where I have worked ever since – 13 years! I made partner in 2019, and looking back, without flexible work, I would not have had the same success and career trajectory, especially after having kids.

I had premature twins in 2014 (a boy and a girl), and they spent the first months of their lives in the NICU. My leave time was not traditional; I wasn’t at home with my newborns, and I knew I needed more time to spend with them. I was already planning to take six months of leave before they arrived early, and my partners were extremely supportive when I needed to extend that time to account for the unforeseen NICU stay. They knew with twins, I was going to be jumping head first into the fire. Flexible work was not only on my mind, it was essential for me in order to stay at the firm.

When I returned from leave, my babies were eight months old. Morgan Lewis never hesitated to show their support for me and for flexible work. I came back at an 80% reduced hours schedule with five days in the office. I left at 5 pm and signed back on at night as necessary. It was such a relief to be able to leave at 5 pm without feeling guilty. I’ve been on this schedule for the past six years, and it’s what’s allowed me to stay in big law. Morgan Lewis also instituted a remote work program which gave me more flexibility to work one-two days a week at home. As a working mother with twins, or any working professional for that matter, this extra layer of flexibility is huge. My standard schedule now allows me to work one day a week at home in addition to my reduced hours. It’s been perfect and also prepared me for our current complete remote-work situation due to COVID-19.

A lot of firms say they support flexibility and that choosing this type of schedule won’t affect your career advancement. But I think there aren’t as many firms that actually support that mentality. Fortunately for me, Morgan Lewis isn’t that type of firm; I was working 80% reduced hours and one day a week at home when I made partner. The firm really stands behind what it says. If I had to be full time, I would not have been able to stay in big law. Nothing takes precedence over my family, and I will always choose them over my job. But at the same time, I love what I do, and flexible work lets me not have to choose between the two.

I’m doing what I want to do as a working mother, and I can still be present for my family when I’m home. It’s not about being in the office from 9-5; it’s about being there for your family when I want and need to be there. Deals are finished, clients are ecstatic, and they never know that I’m working outside of the traditional 9-5 work day.

DFA: How have the firm and/or clients contributed to your Flex Success®?

HW: When I started at the firm in 2007, I was a member of the American College of Investment Counsel (ACIC). Twice a year, all the outside and in house counsel came together for their annual meetings. The demographic was quite different at the time; I was one of the few, younger female attorney members in a room full of partners and in house counsel who were mostly men. Now the demographics in finance have changed. I see more women in the room and more working moms. All this to say that the demographics of my clientele have changed over the years too. My clients are dealing with the same work-life control issues that I am. The depth of understanding and shared experiences have evolved and made my client relationships stronger.

With more clients experiencing the same issues I am, it alleviates some of the pressure I feel as a partner to be “on” 24/7. I can still provide excellent client service but in an environment and methodology that’s outside of the normal 9-5 work day.

When I first started at the firm, I worked for five male partners, and I established certain boundaries when it came to being present for my family. They realized my work was getting done, clients trusted me, and I was always responsive. I proved myself so it was easier for them to be flexible with me too. I won’t claim that it was always easy, but I give a huge amount of recognition to my team and partners for progressing with me over the years.

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business/professional development opportunities?

HW: I’ve always said I’m 80% in hours, but 100% in firm citizenship. The days are gone where you can sit in your office and bank on the phone ringing from your client of 30 years. Ever since I was a mid-level associate, I made marketing a huge part of my professional development. It’s extremely important, and you have to constantly remind your clients that you’re there for them. There are so many other law firms and attorneys out there – we’re easily replaced. Working 80% reduced hours has allowed me to be with my family but also do the client meet and greets, lunches, and presentations.

I personally feel that flexibility is a benefit for the firm on so many levels too; clients want to know that the firms they engage with are diverse, inclusive, and good to working parents. It’s a win for the firm, and it’s a win for me. Morgan Lewis can walk the walk and talk the talk. This in turn benefits the profession as a whole because people hear my success story, and it shows them they can do it too.

DFA: Looking back, would you do anything differently, or what would you tell your younger self?

HW: I would tell myself not to stress so much about it. That’s the biggest thing. I try to tell others that you have to decide what your personal boundaries are going to be. Are you going to be on call 24/7 and that’s your working style? Fine. Or are you going to be someone where Fridays are sacred but you’ll work on Saturdays? Fine too. Set those boundaries. I should have thought about and set my boundaries earlier. Things work out, but I wish I had spent less time worrying about the future.

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

I try to recharge through vacation or working out. When I’m active, even if it’s for 30 minutes, I feel more energized for the rest of the day. It’s so hard to be a working parent with young kids; I look back and don’t even know how I did it. I’m trying to be more conscious on paying it forward and understanding that everyone has something going on in their lives. We’re in a high pressure profession, and I know how much flexible work has helped me. We get lost in the mindset that the world will stop moving if we’re not constantly working. But we all know that’s clearly not the case. I’ve never had a deal fall through because I took an hour for myself or put my family first.

 

 

 

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.

April 2020 Spotlight on Flex

For April 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Erin Howell, Counsel, Hogan Lovells (New York). 

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

Erin Howell: Ever since I was a junior lawyer, flexibility has always been important to me. I started my career as an insurance regulatory associate at Dewey & LeBoeuf, in 2008 just as the economic downturn hit. The firm started offering partially paid sabbaticals to attorneys. I used that opportunity in 2011 to evaluate my career and figure out what my next steps were going to be. At the time, I had three young step-children, and my sabbatical was a great way to spend time together as a family and figure out my next steps. As you can imagine, working for a firm on the verge of bankruptcy is not pleasant and highly stressful; I wasn’t busy, I wasn’t developing professionally the way I wanted to, and it made me doubt if the practice of law was right for me. It took me the better part of my sabbatical (I used nine months of the allotted 12) to figure out if I wanted to stay in big law or do a complete career overhaul.

I was fortunate because a small group from Dewey was leaving for Hogan Lovells, and right before Dewey declared bankruptcy, I lateraled to Hogan’s corporate group in 2012. I wanted to really understand if practicing at a large firm was for me. There were parts of working in big law that I really enjoyed, and I wanted to build on those experiences. I broadened my practice and transitioned from doing regulatory insurance work to corporate M & A at Hogan.

I started as a full time associate at Hogan until I had my son in 2015. I remember being on leave, staring at my newborn, and feeling angst over billing 2000 hours a year – when was I going to see my family? How was I going to make this all work? I had nothing to lose by asking for reduced hours, so I went for it. But first, I did my research. I had a friend who made partner while working reduced hours at another firm, so I wanted to know what worked for her. She gave me great advice. First, she told me if I wanted true, meaningful “balance” to ask for 50% – 70% reduced hours and increase my hours later if that felt right. She also told me to be as flexible as possible in terms of availability. With that in mind, I found what worked best for me was a 2/3 schedule where I worked every day; two days a week were full time in the office, and the other three were half days from home. I also found that working in the afternoon was better for my practice than working in the morning. It didn’t make sense for me to take every Friday off because you can’t anticipate when an issue will come up. It’s easier to say, “I can get back to you in a few hours,” versus “I can get back to you in a few days.”

I remained on this schedule until last year. Now that my son is in pre-school, I have increased my hours to around 75 – 80%, and I work Monday and Thursday in the office, Tuesday is a full day at home, and Wednesday and Fridays are half days. That changes depending on what’s needed that week; when I have a deal pending, a 30 hour work week is not feasible. But things balance out later once the deal is done.

What I really appreciate about Hogan is that I didn’t propose a specific schedule when I first asked to work flexibly; I just asked to work part time with some days at home. I wanted to have availability across the week, and together, we developed my schedule. The buy in from my partners also gave me the confidence that I could make my flex schedule work.

DFA: How have the firm and/or clients contributed to your Flex Success®?

EH: In general, I don’t mention my schedule to clients. I want their experience with me to be seamless. On the days I work from home, I forward my calls to my cell phone so it’s just like I’m in the office. That being said, the time I’ve carve out for my family is no different from time I have committed to another client or anything else that’s important. Sometimes an urgent client need requires me to call in back-up to help with my kids. Sometimes the client need isn’t urgent, and it can wait. The general rule I apply is, “Would I reschedule a commitment to another client for this?” Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it’s no. I’ve had situations where the conversation naturally leads me to mentioning that I work reduced hours and three days a week from home. My clients are always surprised because they have no idea. One of my female clients said to me, “Thank God – I was wondering how you managed your work and four kids at the same time.” It goes to show that clients are no different than the attorneys; we’re all struggling with the same issues.

From the firm’s perspective, I was elevated to counsel while working a flex schedule. That made two things very clear to me: 1) Hogan supported my choices and flexibility, and 2) the firm has always been open about the advancement process and how my decisions would or would not impact my advancement. My experiences and career path may be a little different than my full time peers, but I always knew what my path would look like. The firm made it easy for me to make educated decisions about my next steps. I’m okay with my path taking a little longer because it’s the one I chose; it feels right to me while I’m traveling on it. The point is to have honest and continuous conversations about your career with firm leadership. This has been a key to my success and feeling good about the choices I’ve made.

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business/professional development opportunities?

EH: For me, the biggest benefit was my availability – both as a parent and at work. I’m fully present and engaged when I’m with my family and when I’m at work. That extra energy has allowed me to explore other avenues of networking and build client relationships. If you don’t have “energy” to foster professional relationships, then it’s really hard to take your career to the next level. Flexibility allows me to really focus both on my life and career and not burn out. This schedule is key – it helps me avoid burnout.

DFA: Looking back, would you do anything differently, or what would you tell your younger self?

EH: I would tell my younger self the same thing I tell junior associates now who are struggling with the same issues – trust the process, especially when you’re a new parent and returning to work. Trust that you’ll figure it out. Everyone has ups and downs with their work flow. It’s hard to remember when you’re busy that you’ll be able to spend more time with your family when it slows down again, and vice versa. Things will pick up again even when it’s slow. Trusting in the process takes the pressure off.

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

EH: I’ve found that my entire life is better and runs smoother when I take care of myself the same way I take care of my kids – making sure I eat well, get plenty of sleep, and stay active. I also try to take care of myself physically and mentally by trying to “unplug” for about 30 minutes a day. It makes a big difference and is essential to having a “balanced” life. Running and yoga also help keep things in perspective for me.

I’m an active formal and informal mentor at the firm too. I talk to everyone who asks about what’s worked and what hasn’t for me when it comes to flexibility. Associates coming up the ranks now are much more assertive about asking for what they want. My story is the common one – I came back from maternity leave and decided to work part time. But now I see more people who want flexible work options others than for childcare/family reasons. They don’t want to burn out, they want a different lifestyle, or they just want time to pursue other interests outside of the office. To me, these choices are they key to widespread success of alternative work arrangements. The more people who can do this, and do it well, the more that firms, clients, and in-house legal departments will see that “always on” is not the only model for success.

Outside the firm, I pay it forward by being able to approach others in my life with more energy and focus. I can attend my youngest son’s school activities. My other three kids are teenagers, and being home for them is more important now than it was when they were toddlers.

Sometimes when I’m pushing to sign a deal and working long hours, I wonder if I’d be happier in a different career. But then I take a step back, and honestly, working 80% at a law firm is comparable to working full time in another field. I have so much flexibility that I wouldn’t have in another role. Even during times when I’m billing 50+ hours a week, I can still attend my son’s Mother’s Day tea party at his school. I still have control over my schedule and can decide how to spend my hours and allocate my resources. That autonomy is so important to me, and it’s one of the reasons why I stay in big law. You have to know yourself and know what’s important to you. It’s not predictable, and it’s not always easy, but for me, it’s worth it.

 

 

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.

March 2020 Spotlight on Flex

For March 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Kate Saracene Partner, Katten Muchin Rosenman (Chicago, IL & New York, NY)

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

 

Kate Saracene: My career path has alternated between human resources (HR) and legal practice. I started out in HR at Xerox and continued to work there part time while I attended law school in Connecticut. Once I graduated, I started working for Nixon Peabody on a traditional legal career path. I had my first child, and when I came back from maternity leave, I tried to work a part-time schedule. However, during my first week back, I was working full time hours and asked to come in on the weekend. By pure luck, a few days later, Xerox called me out of the blue and offered me a managerial position. They said I could name my terms, and the timing could not have been more perfect. I went back to work for Xerox for more money and working four days a week at an 80% reduced hours schedule.

I remained at Xerox for a few years, but I returned to Nixon Peabody in a non-partner track counsel position (first on an 85% then to an 80% reduced hours schedule). By this point, my kids were older, and I came into the office five days a week. But I was able to use my 20% of non- billable hours to focus on what I needed to do outside of the office – business development opportunities, activities at my kids’ schools, doctor’s appointments, etc. Nixon subsequently changed its policy to allow reduced hours attorneys to make partner. I switched my track, was promoted to partner shortly thereafter, and I kept my reduced hours schedule the entire time!

I had built a reputation as a national expert in health and welfare benefits, especially the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obama Care”). Katten’s Chicago office was in the midst of succession planning, and they were looking for someone with my particular areas of expertise. They asked me to join the firm in November 2017 as a partner in the employee benefits group.

When I started at Katten, my youngest was already 11 years old; I didn’t need flexibility in terms of reduced hours anymore so I switched back to full time. My flexibility with the firm, however, stems from the fact that even though I have dual residency in the Chicago and New York City offices, I live full time in Rochester, NY! I go between the two offices – typically twice a month to Chicago and once a month to New York City. And in September 2019, I became the employee benefits Practice Group Leader (PGL). There are 10 people in the group spread throughout the firm’s offices (Chicago, New York City, and DC). Even though I’m working full time, I have my own client base and still control my schedule – I can pick up the kids from school, work on my laptop while waiting in the carpool line, or while waiting for their sports practice to be over. I’ve done work waiting in coffee shops, ice rinks… you name it!

DFA: How have the firm and/or clients contributed to your Flex Success®?

KS: You don’t need to be as client-facing in my practice area as you do in other areas. It’s more counseling by phone or email. I’m in an industry where several of my client contacts are women (HR tends to skew more female), and they’re very supportive. Corporations are coming around to flexible work options faster than law firms, so to them, my arrangement is normal. Becoming a partner was really a key factor to my flex success because I mostly work for my own clients, and I can schedule my meetings to work with my flexibility.

When I first started talking with Katten, I asked the recruiter to test the waters with a telecommuting arrangement because I wasn’t willing to relocate from Rochester, NY. We agreed I would come to a Katten office as much as possible – about half the week for three weeks of the month. Over time, the office schedule has become less rigid, but the amount of time I spend in a physical office has worked out because of client needs, meetings, and things I want to attend in the office.

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business/professional development opportunities?

KS: It’s enabled me to return to the practice of law. I left the law after having my first child because I didn’t think this industry could successfully incorporate flexible work. I was originally in employment litigation, but I switched to employee benefits counseling when I came back to Nixon. I had to change my focus in order to find a way to continue practicing law with flexible work options. I probably wouldn’t have returned to law after being at Xerox if flexible work was not an option.

Even though my schedule changed over the years, I’ve been able to use flexible work to focus on writing articles, giving speeches, and traveling to conferences to enhance my personal and professional development.

DFA: Looking back, would you do anything differently, or what would you tell your younger self?

KS: I would tell my younger self to slow down and wait for the right opportunity to present itself. When I was first out of law school, my goal was to be the youngest income partner at a major law firm; I was in such a hurry to reach my next destination.

One Nixon partner said I was ruining my career when I decided to leave the firm to go back to Xerox. But I made the right decisions that worked for me at the time. I remember once during a succession planning meeting at Xerox, a senior manager was talking about the life cycle of a career – there are points in your life when you focus on school, on your job, or on your family. We need to recognize that; when people are at a point where they need to switch their focus away from their career, you wait and support them because you want that employee back. If you just cut people off during those times, you’ll lose the best talent.

I’ve been trying to coach myself through my career with this philosophy. There are going to be years where your career isn’t your focus, and that’s OK. You have to do what’s best for you.

If I had embraced that early on, I would have had less angst along the way. I wish I had known how well everything would work out. I would have never of imagined being a PGL while working remotely and commuting to a Chicago based firm. It just wasn’t even in my line of sight.

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

KS: The yoga studio is my happy place. I went through a rough patch after my second divorce – that really knocked the wind out of me. Just like I never thought I’d be a remote PGL at a major law firm, I never thought I’d be twice-divorced at 41. I found solace through meditation and by practicing yoga. Instead of sitting home alone on a Friday night, I went to the yoga studio. You always belong to a community there, and I developed an amazing circle of friends. I also met really great business contacts through the yoga community.

I loved it so much that I became a certified yoga instructor and was able to teach a few classes a week. Now my teaching is more on a voluntary basis for the local bar association; I lead meditation CLE programs, and I’ve ended up incorporating these practices at the firm too. At Katten, I worked with HR to establish a national wellness committee and start a firm-wide wellness initiative. I’ll be one of the quarterly speakers for the firm’s wellness webcast talking about how meditation can enhance the practice of law.

It’s interesting because my chain of command both at Nixon and Katten are both big proponents of yoga and meditation. Because of this, I’ve always felt very much at home at Katten. It also affirms that when management supports implementing these practices, it succeeds because they recognize the benefits for mental health (especially in our profession). I use this to pay it forward – figuring out the best way to bring these practices to the legal community. I led a meditation session at the firm’s practice group leader training a few months ago – so many people spoke to me afterwards to learn more and talk about it. I know we had an impact that day. Sometimes you just have to expose people to something new to get them interested. I also led a meditation session at the new partner orientation and for the mid-level associates’ academy.

You have to be open to sharing your experiences in order to really see change and help others. When I spoke at the new partner orientation, I candidly shared my career and life experiences, and other women partners have asked me to mentor them as a result. I’m a huge advocate for flex; people need to know they don’t have to follow a traditional path in order to “make it” anymore.

 

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.

2020 Spotlights

For February 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Meg Kedrowski Managing Director & Partner, Boston Consulting Group (Los Angeles, CA)

DFA: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your schedule?

MK: Boston Consulting Group (“BCG”) is a dream job for me. I love the impact and variety of our projects and the caliber of our talent. I started as an associate, then consultant to project leader, was promoted to principal, and then again to my current role as a managing director and partner in 2018. BCG has been so supportive every step of my career – between transferring offices twice because of my husband’s career and working at a reduced [hours] capacity. A year into my role as a project leader in 2012, I switched to a flex schedule – this was even before I had kids. I had been at BCG for five years, was traveling extensively, and working a lot of hours. I was at the point where I was jealous of my friends at other jobs who had time during the week (not just the weekends) to do the things they enjoyed. I wanted that option too. But I struggled with how to achieve that work/life control when my colleagues were working more than that. I didn’t think it was fair to change my schedule when the rest of the team was counting on me. I have a background in economics, and after looking at the amount of hours/week I was putting in, I realized the marginal cost to me personally, of each additional hour past 40 hours/week, was a lot higher than the marginal cost of the first 10 hours I worked. I wanted to optimize on the margins; I was willing to give up 20% of my pay in order to shed 20% of the hours that had the highest personal cost to me. In other words, I wanted to work at an 80% capacity by being in the office five days a week, leaving early to be home and have dinner with my husband, and not worry about opening my laptop in the late evening hours. Of course, there were times I had to stay late or meet with clients, but it was an absolute step change in my relationship with managing work and life. I’ll be honest; I didn’t think a reduced schedule was going to work at first. But I needed to make a change. My partners were extremely supportive, clients knew about my schedule change, and BCG put extra resources on my teams so coverage was always in place. I was able to turn down certain projects with confidence that it wouldn’t impede my advancement. In 2013, I had my first child, and I probably would not have come back to work at BCG if I didn’t have flex options in place. I’ve made flex work for me as needed during different stages in my career and life. I was a principal when I had my second child, and I started dividing my time between multiple client projects. But it wasn’t feasible to work five shorter days a week with this arrangement. Instead, I switched to taking one day a week off (either Wednesdays or Thursdays). After my third maternity leave, I went to a 60% reduced capacity schedule and ramped back up to 80% with one day a week off. However in 2018, I took a medical leave of absence; when I returned to work, I went back to 60% reduced capacity, with two days off per week. I’ve been on this schedule ever since. Nothing is set in stone – some weeks I need to switch which days I’m out of the office or some weeks I have to bank my time off for another week. The most important thing is that I work with my team to make sure there’s coverage for our clients. It’s flexible flexibility.

DFA: How have the firm and/or clients contributed to your Flex Success®?

MK: I did think about leaving at one point, but after talking with other colleagues who were working reduced hours, I knew I had to try a flexible model. Once I decided on my schedule, BCG was on board. It takes some clients a little longer to understand flexible work, but once they see that their deliverables are unaffected and they’re receiving the trusted support they need, any concerns are gone. In our line of work, we bill by deliverables – not by the hour. I know there are partners who are skeptics about reduced hours. In their minds, they don’t see the need to take a pay cut in order to leave early once in a while to see their kids’ games or meet personal commitments. But the trade-offs are worth it to me. The difference between a flex schedule and occasionally leaving early to watch your kids’ games (which everyone should feel empowered to do), is the additional support and resources you have and the consistency to keep those personal commitments during the week. BCG has always focused on supporting me, making sure I’m meeting my personal goals, and that I’m fairly compensated along the way. Since my own switch to a flexible model, BCG has taken steps to formalize and simplify the process for team members. We now offer standard “Flex60” and “Flex80” programs with clear policies around how to ensure fair work schedules, pay, and promotion for individuals seeking a reduced-hours model. We also offer “Time for You,” an opportunity to take eight weeks of unpaid leave with full benefits. I hope this will make flexible models easier for others at BCG to adopt.

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business/professional development opportunities?

MK: I wouldn’t be at BCG if we didn’t offer flexible work options. Working reduced hours allows me to be the kind of wife, mother, and friend that I want to be while still delivering outstanding value to clients. Many of my clients are trying to figure out their work/life balance situation too. I’ve found that when I open up to them about my schedule, it tends to be a relationship builder, not a relationship limiter. Ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve while working flexibly. If you’re shooting for something that’s unrealistic for you, your organization, or your clients, then it won’t work. Be clear on what your top priorities are, and set standards that will make you happy.

DFA: Looking back, would you do anything differently, or what would you tell your younger self?

MK: You don’t have to solve for what you need 10 years from now, because you don’t know what you’ll need 10 years from now. Things change. Solve for what you need for the next 6-12 months, and don’t close any doors that would keep you from solving for a different set of needs in a year’s time. There was a period earlier in my career (for about two to three months) where I was trying to build a new set of capabilities and working more than my agreed upon hours. In retrospect, I should have been clearer about I was trying to accomplish and engaged my mentors and partners more. I should have officially changed my hours during that time and been more deliberate and transparent with my goals. Instead, I viewed this as “a great opportunity and I can’t turn it down,” even if I wasn’t sleeping! Had I been more transparent, I would have delivered better value and been more successful at building the skill sets and relationships I wanted at the time.

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

MK: Lots of different ways! I’m an avid reader and just finished the book Light from Other Stars, a science fiction novel that’s a fascinating thought-starter on women’s career options and how the trade-offs women have had to make have changed dramatically over the last few decades. My family has annual passes to Disneyland, and we go at least once a month – it’s one of the best ways to use my day off. I’m also fortunate to live in a very walkable neighborhood; I like to walk my kids to and from school, stopping by the park and the local coffee shop. I do my best to mentor other women and men who are trying to solve their own work/life challenges. I’ve seen a significant uptick in men looking for advice too. A year ago BCG kicked off our ”Women in MedTech” initiative, and I’ve been helping lead that program. Internally, we focus on mentorship, affiliation, and ensuring diverse voices are reflected in our leadership. We team with our clients to advance women in MedTech and participate in external forums. It’s been fun to give back and be part of something that triggers thoughtprovoking discussions on diversity and gender, both inside BCG and beyond.

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.

2020 Spotlights

For January 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Allison Binkley Partner, Squire Patton Boggs (Columbus, OH)

DFA: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your schedule?

AB: Before joining Squire Patton Boggs (“Squire”) in 2014, I worked at another large regional law firm and focused my practice on public finance. After my daughter was born, I changed my schedule to telecommute one day a week, but after a year, I wanted more flexibility in my schedule and more time to spend with her. That firm already had several attorneys working reduced hours, and it was clear our practice group’s partners were supportive of flexible work arrangements. I switched to an 80% reduced hours schedule and was in the office four days a week.

By the end of my tenure at my previous firm, the practice group consisted of just myself and a senior partner. The firm was great, but I knew I wanted to expand my practice expertise. Over the years, I developed great working relationships with several of the attorneys here at Squire, and they approached me to make a lateral move. I was worried, however, that I wouldn’t find the same type of flex support at Squire that I had at my current firm.

Those fears quickly went out the window. Squire’s managing partner didn’t hesitate to agree to my request to join the firm on a reduced hours schedule; he said we hire good people, and we give our people what they need. That was almost six years ago, and even though the structure of my flex schedule may have changed, the support from the firm has not.

I lateraled as a senior associate to Squire in 2014, was promoted to principal in 2016, and promoted again to partner in 2018 – all while working reduced hours and one day a week from home. Now that my daughter is school age, I work an 80% reduced hours schedule and telecommute one day a week (usually Fridays). I leave at an earlier time so I can be home to pick her up and participate in her activities.

DFA: How have the firm and/or clients contributed to your Flex Success®?

AB: I have a lot of latitude and independence because the firm has several other attorneys working some type of flex schedule. I came to the firm with a book of business, and since joining Squire, have continued to grow that book of business. Some of my clients know about my schedule, and others don’t. At the end of the day, it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter as long as I’m responsive and meeting their needs.

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business/professional development opportunities?

AB: My time in the office translates to time spent on business and professional development too. I’m very active in the Ohio Government Finance Officers Association (“GFOA”) – a trade group of finance officers from local governments as well as public finance professionals. It’s a great group of professionals, and I’m currently serving a three year term on the Board of Trustees. We also host an annual conference with 500 – 600 attendees, and I’m part of the planning committee. Without flexibility at work, I wouldn’t be able to be as involved in Ohio GFOA. I’d be missing the opportunity to collaborate and network with so many of my peers outside of the law firm.

I’m also an adjunct professor at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. It’s my third year of teaching, and it’s such a rewarding experience. Again, without my flex schedule, I would never be able to partake in all these wonderful professional/business development opportunities and spend the amount of time that I’d like with my family.

DFA: Looking back, would you do anything differently, or what would you tell your younger self?

AB: I would tell myself not to sweat it. Flexible work arrangements were not on the top of my mind when I started practicing. But they became very important to me once I was a parent, and I knew my schedule was going to change drastically. I knew it would work out because the support structures at the firm were in place.

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

AB: I’ve been fortunate to have amazing and supportive partners over the years who’ve also been my mentors. I didn’t have to be a trailblazer for flexible work at the firm, but I do want to make sure I’m paying it forward. I try to use my experiences to help younger associates as they figure out what works best for them now – or five years from now.

I plan to continue to be active with my outside organizations, support my local community, and support my daughter’s school. These are ways that I’m able to recharge. But I’m also able to reset by spending time with my family, traveling, and taking advantage of the outdoors and outdoor activities during the warm weather months here in Ohio.

 

 

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.

2019 Spotlights

November 2019 Spotlight on Flex & 2019 Flex Leader Honoree

For November 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Jennifer M. Flynn, Managing Vice President, Head of Small Business Bank Division, Capital One.

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: In what ways has creating a culture where flexibility is the norm provided a competitive advantage for Capital One’s Small Business Bank Division?

Jennifer Flynn: When I joined as the Head of Capital One’s Small Business Bank (SBB) division in June 2018, the team was on an incredible cultural journey with a huge focus on inclusivity and creating a sense of belonging across all of our sites. I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of this transformation. Together, with my leadership team, we declared “reimagining our associate experience” as one of our top goals for 2019. This includes investing in our leaders, promoting flexibility, and embracing differences across our teams. We actively encourage each associate to bring their authentic selves to work each day, and I love watching this transform our division’s culture. Our SBB team is always raising the bar; our business is better because of how we work, and as a result, so are our customers.

DFA: How have you modeled flexible work at Capital One? Why do you think it’s important to lead from the top on this issue?

JMF: I took a leadership development course at GE’s Crotonville facility in 2007 and learned the importance of priority setting. When I had my daughter in 2010, I realized she needed me more than anyone else could; my priorities had to shift. This is when the term “flexibility” became real for me. I wanted to continue progressing in my career and loved being a mom … I just had to find the “and” and make it work my way. This meant making decisions around my priorities, being OK with the consequences of those decisions, and giving myself permission to try and fail. It meant using my voice, and in some ways, over-communicating with my managers, team members, and family when I introduced flexibility into my work week. It also meant soliciting sponsors to support me on my journey. As I grew in my career, I developed a sense of responsibility to model this behavior for other associates looking for balance in their work and home lives. I’m a big believer in the “I see you, I want to be you” phenomenon. If we surround ourselves with leaders who model the behaviors we value, it builds a culture where people feel engaged and empowered to find their “and.” This is what fuels me in promoting and modeling a flexible culture for my team at Capital One.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for leaders to role model the behaviors they want to promote. I find that asking your employees one simple question – “What is important to you?” – goes a long way when empowering associates and helping them achieve success in their personal and professional lives. I’ve also learned there is no script – everyone is different, and flexibility means different things to people at different times in their lives. The willingness to remain open and try new things to make it work for both your organization and employees separate good leaders from great leaders.

DFA: How has incorporating holistic flexibility (ie. telecommuting, reduced hours, job-sharing, flexible start/end times, etc.) changed your office?

JMF: Developing high-performing teams is a big priority of ours. I believe as leaders, it’s our job to create and foster an inclusive and flexible work environment that allows us to attract, retain and develop talent. This results in a happier workforce and better work product. Technology has made this easier for us as well – with a computer, a smart phone, and a strong work ethic, we can do our jobs from anywhere!

DFA: How has flexibility impacted your life?

JMF: Flexibility has allowed me to achieve both my personal and professional goals. Having the freedom to make choices and do things my way has allowed me to have an extremely rewarding career and still keep my daughter as my top priority.

DFA: What was the most meaningful piece of leadership advice you have received? Who has had the most influence on your career?

JMF: Set your priorities; make decisions around those priorities, and if you don’t like the consequences of those decisions, make another choice. This advice has served me well and has also helped me remove guilt from my vocabulary! When you’re confident in your priorities, everything else falls into place.

I also learned the power of using my voice and encouraging others to do the same. Sharing my priorities with others really helped me find the “and” – the flexibility I need to make things work for both my family and my organization. Don’t underestimate the power of letting someone in. I am where I am today largely because of the leaders who took a chance on me, pushed me, and supported me on both my personal and professional journey. My goal is to be that person for my team.

DFA: How do you pay it forward?

JMF: I make it a point to surround myself with leaders who model the behaviors I value, and I have become a champion for those just starting out on their journey. I’m committed to working with my teams to create a culture where everyone feels a sense of belonging, an obligation to share a dissenting opinion, and can bring their whole selves to work feeling inspired and respected. It’s important for everyone to work for leaders who bring out the best in you, who embrace varying perspectives, and see differences as an opportunity to grow. I made a promise to remain true to my authentic self, and I want others to feel the freedom to do the same.

I’m actively engaged on the Executive Steering Committee for Capital One’s Women’s Business Resource Group and the Capital One Greater Washington Market President Network, both located in McLean, VA. I’m an advisor for 1863 Ventures and passionate about helping small businesses succeed.

 

 

 

 

In 2019, we will be sharing diversity and flexibility Bright Spots – those small or large successes that impact your organization in a positive way. We believe that important diversity and flexibility initiatives can truly impact your organization’s bottom line, recruitment and retention capabilities and employee satisfaction. 

BRIGHT SPOT

Hogan Lovells – Agile Working Initiative

One of international law firm, Hogan Lovells’ Diversity & Flexibility Bright Spots is its Global Agile Working Initiative. Launched in 2016, this initiative allows all attorneys and business services members in all offices worldwide to adopt an agile working plan. Employees who choose to adopt an agile working arrangement may utilize a combination of flexible working options including remote working, reduced hours, staggered arrival and departure times, job sharing, and telecommuting. Hogan Lovells even developed a “tool kit” to help explain and implement the policy.

IMPACT

Agile working at Hogan Lovells has allowed the firm to improve talent retention, promote stronger engagement, create a new sense of community, and has given its employees more control over how to balance their personal and professional lives. Lawyers at Hogan Lovells report satisfaction with their arrangements and have shared that the options and flexibility provided by the firm are key in their decision to stay at the firm. The Diversity & Flexibility Alliance honored Hogan Lovells in 2017 with one of our inaugural Flex Impact Awards. While benefitting men and women, the Global Agile Working Initiative has had the added bonus of helping the firm make significant progress towards its goal of having women make up 30 percent of its partners by 2022. Hogan Lovells was also the honoree for Dell’s Outside Counsel Diversity Award.

Hogan Lovells has shown that flexible working can result in increased efficiency, productivity, diversity and business success. Hopefully other US firms and corporations will learn from Hogan’s success and truly embrace flexibility on a global level.

Please share your Diversity & Flexibility Bright Spots with us by downloading and completing THIS SHORT FORM and emailing it to Jane Caldeira at jane@dfalliance.com