Monday, February 28, 2011

The Primary Dilemma

Just came across a really insightful analysis of working mothers and the choices they make, in a study by Lynn Hall at Primary Dilemma LLC.  This is certainly one of the most thought-provoking approaches to understanding the choices working moms make that I've read in a long time.  Although her study was not focused on women lawyers, it seems to me to be an incredibly useful tool for women and firm management.   Rather than approaching working moms with a one-size-fits-all approach to flex time and career tracks, Lynn Hall's analytical approach helps crystallize what is important to the different work choices facing moms with different demands.  By better understanding the motivations and limitations that women typically face, firm policies and attitudes can accommodate these differences and keep more women progressing up the career path.

I encourage you to read Lynn's summary, but in a nutshell, here are the five work styles she identifies from her studies:


  • Fully Loaded: Is a Single Parent.  She is solely responsible for the balance of work and family.  Among the women who responded to the PRIMARY DILEMMA research, 10% were Fully Loaded.  Of note, a higher percentage of respondents reported to be single mothers but acknowledged co-parenting with someone else.

  • Workable: Is the primary career in her family.  She spends more physical time working than physical childcare.  The Workable is enabled by someone else providing primary childcare.  Of note, the Workable is highly engaged with her children emotionally.  Among working mothers responding to the PRIMARY DILEMMA research, 22% identified themselves as a Workable.

  • Equalizer: Is actively engaged in work and parenting. She must carefully coordinate with an equally involved and accountable partner to share childcare and household responsibilities.  Of women responding to the PRIMARY DILEMMA research, 21% were Equalizers.  This person has the opportunity to be a primary career and a primary parent, just not at the same time.

  • Obliged: Is the primary physical parent who also supplies a required second income.  Of women responding to the PRIMARY DILEMMA research, 24% identified as Obliged. This is a complicated method.  Most of the childcare responsibility will fall on the shoulders of this person but there is also significant pressure on her job.  The greatest dissatisfaction for work was expressed among survey respondents in this cohort.  The dissatisfaction typically reflected inflexible work arrangements and an overall shortage of time.

  • Parentess: Is the primary physical parent.  She supplies a discretionary second income for her family.  Among working mothers responding to the PRIMARY DILEMMA research, 22% identified themselves as a Parentess.  Part-time or flexible work indexes highest for this method.  In addition, she acknowledges that her method may be transitional.



  • The parenting style of a working mom who is a lawyer will dramatically affect her engagement in all facets of professional development, her frustrations, and her career trajectory.  A woman who fits the "parentess" model is likely to be quite content with a stable income, nonequity partnership, or even staff attorney, at least for some portion of her career.  Nothing wrong with that, and progressive law firms are well advised to make this option a real option for women (and men, for that matter).

    But women who see themselves as "Workables" or "Equalizers" probably have a strong desire to succeed as a professional, and accordingly won't be content with the career and advancement limitations of nonequity or staff attorney type jobs.  There is much that can be done by law firms to make this a realistic alternative for motivated and talented women who want a satisfying career, and a family life.  .

    1 comment:

    1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I'm a single dad of 2 age 2 and 5. I find your site so interesting and helpful. I hope I have much time each day to drop by and check your site for recent post. By the way I really appreciate the effort for sharing this.. Thank you..

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