I’ve been meaning to write on this event for years but wanted to give enough time between the conversation and now for anonymity. I share about this conversation often because it is something most women relate to and it has nothing to do with people who sat around the conference room table that day. 

Sitting in the conference room on a bright, sunny day were a group of law firm leaders, all men, save for myself and the woman partner to my left. We were discussing an upcoming firm event to be held at the home of one of the partners later that evening. When asked if he was good with the event scheduled to begin just hours from then, the partner responded, “My wife is handling all the details” and then went casually back to his conversation unconcerned about caterers, menus, table linens, what time was he going to sneak out of the office, decorations, were the toilets cleaned, music, and what would the neighbors say about all the cars.

The conversation around the table then turned to who picks up the dry cleaning (the wives). Who takes/took the kids to the doctor’s appointments (the wives). Who coordinates the after-school activities (the wives). Who handles the shopping, the cooking, the household (the wives). Vacations (the wives). His parents (the wives).

After much discussion around the table, I leaned to my left and whispered to the only other woman in the room, “I am the wife.” And she looked at me with exuberance, understanding, connectedness, and whispered, “Me too!” A secret bond between us born.

But back to the conversation around the table, and it was unanimously decided to make sure the firm sent the partner’s wife flowers to thank her for all her hard work.

Forget never letting them (whoever “them” or “they” are) see us sweat. We can never let them see us “wife.” But those days, I hope, are nearing their end.

(end scene)

When we discuss women in law, and why women leave the law, and why women do not achieve partnership in law firms (which is very nuanced, but THIS topic is PART of the issue, not the whole of it), we cannot do so without discussing the “hidden load,” as described in this BBC article: The hidden load: How ‘thinking of everything’ holds mums back.

When it comes to household responsibilities, women perform far more cognitive and emotional labour than men. Why is this, and is there anything we can do about it?

Ummm. Yeah. And while the article focuses on mothers in heterosexual relationships, I gotta say, it sums up marriage with a woman breadwinner quite well. I do not have personal experience in a homosexual partnership so I cannot comment on that but would welcome the discussion in the comments.

It’s not just the physical aspects of the relationship but the decision-making and worrying that goes with it that is so exhausting. The Sports Dude will oftentimes look at me and say, “I see you thinking, what are you thinking about.” And then I start to give him a running list:

Do you really want to know what’s going on in my head?

My mother is moving in with us and we need to add a bathroom to our downstairs den; kid #2 is graduating high school and we need to plan a party; work stuff; don’t forget to give the dogs their flea pills; don’t forget to pause the mail while on vacation; more work stuff; pay the bills; is now a good time to refinance the house?; don’t look at the 401K; can we get to Paris this year to visit the Sports Dude’s family?; ugh, I told you to not look; double ugh, don’t forget to make a dentist appointment; don’t forget to pick up xx at Trader Joe’s. Oh, and the Sports Dude’s liver enzymes are off, what does that mean????

He usually regrets asking me and will respond with a “don’t worry about all that,” but someone has to, right?

The good news is that we’re talking about it.

I’m talking about it with my “huddle”; I’m discussing it at work with my team and with my colleagues; I’m raising the topic in the committees I serve on or have influence. Why? Because behind every working woman is a shi*tload of crap we need to get done, figure out, arrange, start, finish, decide, not to mention, what’s for dinner? and our work projects and products and oh so many emails.

I often say it’s a dirty little secret, but think about how many breadwinning women do you know who also decide what type of bread to make, make the shopping list, buy the ingredients, make the bread and clean the kitchen afterward?

So as we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the law firm (or any business) we cannot have the conversation without discussing this hidden load and how those of us with influence can help to lighten the load.

The good news is that there are solutions out there for the law firms and businesses bold enough to have this conversation to deploy. And, yes, #McGlincheyForward is boldly having this conversation and looking for the solutions that are right for us.