Nixon Peabody is a proud home to a number of talented, hardworking, and exceptional female leaders – many of whom are navigating the complexities of raising children while advancing in their careers. These women have all carved successful paths in the legal profession, with no shortage of challenges along the way. As a working mom myself, I was thrilled to sit down with four firm partners to discuss their journeys as lawyer moms, as well as their approaches to negotiating busy careers, families, and personal wellbeing.
I spoke with Affordable Housing and Real Estate partner Meghan Altidor, Chief Talent Officer Stacie Collier, Private Clients partner Sarah Connolly, and Public Finance partner Virginia Wong about their experiences and their insights for other working parents. They’ve encountered many of the same challenges, systemic biases, and internal struggles, and have each maneuvered their careers in a way that works for them personally. In speaking with these role models, I hope our colleagues, and working parents in every profession, can appreciate the many different and highly individualized paths to achieving their career goals while raising a family.
Can you talk a little bit about where you were in your career when you had your first child?
Stacie Collier: I actually was put up for partner and learned that I was pregnant with my oldest son at the same time. I had a whole lot of questions about what that meant at the time. And of course being a good labor and employment partner, I asked, “Well, what does this mean? Do I get the same leave rights, do I get the same benefits, and how does that all work? There really weren’t many policies for partners on parental leave.
One thing that’s so great now when I look at the most recent class of partners, there are so many women who either were expecting or are expecting or expecting to expect, and they have this great network. I was asked to draft a parental leave policy for partners so we put that in place, which was good. But when I was pregnant, it was just so up in the air about what it meant for my career. And I was totally supported in taking the leave I needed to take. More recently, it was great to be in that position where I could help to formulate policy and codify what relatively few of us had done in the past. It was 15 years ago, so it was just very different.
You bring up a lot of really interesting points about how there weren’t always policies that addressed pregnancy and motherhood. How did you navigate those challenges?
Meghan Altidor: I know all the women here share something in common, which is that we had really incredible support systems. In addition to the leadership, I have my practice group leader as well as the partners in my group. I also had a cohort of women who were going through similar experiences—who had recently had children, were struggling to figure out how to become a partner, how to build business. I feel like we really developed this wonderful thing that continues today where we share values: We don’t want to go out drinking all night; instead, maybe we want to do breakfast with potential clients or lunches that fit into our world so that we have the time to spend with our family, so we can limit our travels, so we can work with each other on deals and really be able to switch in and out and have some flexibility and not feel like you are the only person who can drive a client relationship. So these are the kinds of things that I feel have been incredibly helpful to me that I didn’t necessarily have templates for or models, but we have been able to create to make this all work. It feels like it’s held together by tape and glue every day, but it’s worked. So that’s kept me here.
Stacie Collier: If I could give one piece of advice to someone who is working with or managing somebody who is coming back from leave, I would say “Just be as kind as you can,” because the people I worked with were so kind to me. And even though I was the first woman attorney to have a baby in my office, you know, that support that I received from the men that I worked with was wonderful. Because you know, if someone had been unkind or critical I think there would have been the part of me that would have cracked, you know, and said “I can’t do this.” Because the voice in my head was saying, “Can I do this? I don’t know if I can do this.” If I got some negative reinforcement on that, I might have believed that tape in my head. But instead the feedback I was getting was, “This is really hard. I’m sure it’s harder for you than it was for me when my wife had a kid, and what can we do, you are doing great.” Reinforcing that the struggle was real and there were people in my corner. So I definitely I’m grateful for that.
As your careers have progressed and your kids have grown, what have you learned about being a mom?
Virginia Wong: We put so much pressure on ourselves, to do all these things, to try to be a great mom and a lawyer and a mentor and a daughter and a sister and a friend and a wife. After I had my first son, someone told me that the thing you have to learn to do is forgive yourself. So forgive yourself when you fall short because you are going to fall short a lot. It really eased my burden to have somebody tell me that and to know that it’s OK not to be the best at everything every day. Maybe you’ll do better tomorrow, maybe you won’t, but forgive yourself. Let yesterday be yesterday and do your best the next day.
Do you have advice for all new working parents–men and women—who are reading this?
Sarah Connolly: I have a word of wisdom, which is your career can be 50 years long. And your kids are only babies for a teeny speck of that potential length of time. And you know what, if you take six months off or you take six weeks off or you’re not working at 110 percent for one year or two years or five years or even ten years, you know what, that’s OK. You have so long, your whole life to work like a maniac. And if there’s a little bit of time—whatever that may be for you–and you can soak up that experience, with your kids no matter what age they may be. Don’t feel bad about it. You should feel great about it! You’ll always have time when your kids are off to college, or even off to kindergarten, when things look a lot more normal and you can kind of go back to your rapid pace.