Crying at work and whether the work/life balance truly exists were just two of the topics discussed last week at WIPR’s Influential Women in IP in San Francisco.
For Eldora Ellison, director of Sterne Kessler Goldstein & Fox and moderator of the “Leading Lawyers Share War Stories and Big Wins!” panel discussion, “Well-behaved women seldom make history” is a quote to live by.
“I decided I would take more risk, speaking up and ruffling some feathers. It worked to my benefit,” said Ellison, although she added that people who have less power, would have a much more difficult time not playing by the rules.
Ellison added: “I can’t say it’s bad to be polite, but I wonder to what extent people feel like they have been too confined. You have to behave a certain way if you want to succeed as a woman. Why not go out there and change the rules? Women can say the things men say, as opposed to adhering to cultural pressures that women often face.”
She doesn’t hesitate to call out mansplaining or manterrupting, “but 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have said those things”.
Yoon Kang, partner at Smart & Biggar, added that for the most part she’s played by her own rules.
“That said, it’s not so easy to change the rules in any organisation (particularly in law firms), unless you’re in a position of power. It’s about making sure everyone has a chance to make the place their own,” said Kang.
In a professional environment, crying could potentially be a sign of weakness or too much emotion. But all panellists agreed that crying at work is not the end of the world.
Catherine Escobedo, of counsel at BARLAW - Barrera & Asociados, said: “I don’t know if its okay to cry but I think we should be allowed to express our emotions. I go to the bathroom or close the door of my office. It’s part of healing and getting yourself together again.”
Jones Day partner Patricia Campbell has also cried at work, although not in front of people. She said: “Crying is very healing, but it’s also impotent rage. You want to take that anger and frustration and be productive with it. Try and push it forward.”
The important thing is to find a strategy for yourself that will get you through the tough times. For Campbell, it’s a combination of her husband and prayer.
Ellison added: “I think it's okay for people to understand you’re human. I’ve had associates crying and I start crying with them. It is important to not make the other person feel bad … It’s not the end of the world.”
Can a balance be reached?
The panellists also mulled over whether the work/life balance truly exists.
Kang cited a roundtable discussion from earlier in the day which concluded that founding a virtual law firm designed to strike that balance and cut down days is one way to ensure a balance, although many just “accept the fact that’s it unbalanced”.
Escobedo added: “It’s very difficult to find. I devoted my free time to the firm and didn’t feel it was wrong. When I moved to [San Francisco], I decided that I would do everything I couldn’t do because I had a lot of work, such as medical appointments that I never took, and visiting friends and family … It’s necessary to try to find a balance.”
Obtaining a balance can be even more difficult when you’re supporting a family.
Campbell said: “The bottom line is that there has to be backup (such as parents or a spouse), because a woman wants to do it all, but you’re just going to die ... if you try to do that full time.”
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