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Breaking Glass

Law firm's Inclusionary Initiative makes sure to factor in work-life balance

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In 2014, it's harder to find a company without a Women's and Diversity Initiative than it is to find one with. So when Genova Burns Giantomasi Webster in Newark formally kicked off its Inclusionary Initiative in January, it wasn't its creation that was newsworthy — it was the issues it was willing to tackle.

“Having a formal initiative lets our current and future employees know that these are issues we care about and want to address,” said Jisha V. Dymond, counsel and co-chair of the Inclusionary Initiative.

“Sometimes people say, ‘Of course we support women and minorities,’ but they don’t realize the need for an initiative like this.”

Yes, the Inclusionary Initiative plays a vital role in recruiting, developing, retaining and promoting women and men of different socioeconomic backgrounds, national origins, ages, religions, sexual orientations and disabilities.

But it also provides an in-house support system to promote work-life balance — something generally unheard of when practicing law.  

“The Inclusionary Initiative would address the issue of women working on a flexible schedule,” said Rebecca Moll Freed, co-chair of the Inclusionary Initiative.

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As a mother working on a flexible schedule with the firm, Freed knows how important it is that companies not only offer such benefits, but also that they see it as an opportunity to maximize their talent pool.

She’s the perfect example, after all, having just been named partner in July.

“A flexible schedule should never mean that a woman should be considered any less of an attorney, sidelined or given less-exciting assignments,” Freed said.

“There is no reason why a woman can’t have it all if she’s willing to push herself.”

Nor is there any reason men can’t, either — though the opportunity to pursue flex-time is available to both male and female attorneys at the firm, both Dymond and Freed said that they had not heard of any men opting-in.

Seems a bit off.

But according to this article, employees working for a company with flexible work arrangements are 13 percent more likely to aspire to senior executive positions — but while men are only 9 percent more likely to downsize their aspirations at a company without FWAs, women are 29 percent more likely to accept their role as is.

“With women graduating in higher numbers from college and law school, the reality is that more women may end up needing to balance having a family and their career, and don’t want to give either up,” Dymond said.

“I’ve spoken with other young associates who have said, ‘This was a factor in making my decision to come here. In the future, if I want or need to alter my schedule, the opportunity is there.’”

In general, flexible work arrangements can include flexible hours (as exemplified by Freed and Dymond), reduced schedules, telecommuting and compressed workweeks.

So at first glance, such arrangements may seem to make things harder on the business and easier for the employee — but the truth is that it’s often a good business decision for both.  

“Businesses can retain good talent if they give employees the flexibility to get the job done on their own time,” Dymond said.  

And that’s all it’s really about — the workload remains the same, but the hours within an employee’s day become her own again.

“You schedule things in a way that works for you,” Freed said. “Whether people work full time or flex time, if you have certain things that are really important to you, such as a child’s graduation or tending to the needs of an older parent, letting your assistant or supervisor know why you won’t be accessible for a certain period of time gives you peace of mind.

“And it’s commonplace in business anyway — there are times when I’m sitting in the office and unavailable because I’m speaking with a client or trying to meet a deadline. You can’t be meeting with one client and responding to phone calls or emails from another.”

Freed said that while she may work less hours than full-time employees some weeks, there have definitely been weeks when she’s worked more.

“It’s a fluid process and no two weeks are the same — it’s just a matter of figuring out what’s needed or expected of me that week.

“Sometimes I also feel like I have to make myself overly available and accessible. If someone wants to talk to me at 9 p.m. or on a Saturday night, no problem — I don’t ever want anyone thinking I’m not available because I’m not in the office that day.”

“This isn’t the kind of job that you can shut off at any given time — whether it’s 8 a.m. or 8 p.m., your phone and computer are on and you are still responding to clients,” Dymond said.

“It’s really just about being available to meet your clients’ demands but at the same time being able to attend to your own personal needs.”

The very definition of work-life balance itself.


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