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Finding the balance between professional and personal life

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Today's professionals -- women and men alike -- want rewarding careers coupled with fulfilling personal lives. They do not want their dedication to their professions to prevent them from enjoying quality time outside the office environment.

While it is only human to want it all, striking a healthy balance between career and home life is no easy task. Professional careers frequently demand long hours, travel and selfless dedication, which places tremendous strain on people also caring for children, elderly parents, sick spouses or partners.

Given that these personal obligations tend to be borne disproportionately by women, their growth in strength and numbers in the workplace has put a spotlight on the issue for both genders. Because the ability to attract and retain the best, brightest and most qualified professionals is a key goal of nearly every company, flexible work hours and more extensive family leave are now offered by many companies to allow employees to stay on track in their careers and still maintain a healthy family life. As an example, Heller Ehrman is at the forefront of offering child care, part time, family and medical leaves and numerous programs to help its professionals achieve balance in their lives. Many firms find this effort is a "no-brainer" given the strength of the business case in favor of doing what is so clearly the right thing for their people.

Athena also plays a strong role in providing balance to its members' personal and professional lives by inspiring and supporting women in their careers, and providing programs and role models in many professions and career stages. Whatever "having it all" might mean to someone, Athena helps that member define and find it.

The business case

Understandably, challenging careers tend to be more demanding and time-consuming than others, namely those in the fields of law, business, engineering, medicine, science and technology. Yet these careers can provide more job satisfaction, which reduces stress, particularly with a balanced personal life.

In September 2006, the U.S. National Academies issued "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering" (available at www.nap.edu/catalog/11741.html), a report that concludes that women earn more than half of all bachelor's degrees in science and engineering, and nearly 40 percent of the doctoral degrees in the same areas. The numbers are similarly reported in professions serving the technology community, such as law and accounting.

With women making up almost half of the talent pool in science and technology, and men increasingly seeking balance in their lives, well-run businesses should be motivated to take steps to increase their appeal to this important segment. According to a Catalyst study in Women in Law, the graduates of five top law schools found that a nearly equal percentage of male and female attorneys -- around 71 percent -- report work/life conflict. In the same Catalyst study, 45 percent of women law graduates gave "Work/Life Balance" as the No. 1 reason for choosing their current employer.

An effective part-time employment program can also help employers control the high costs of attrition and recruiting. The cost of replacing employees who leave to find better balance in their lives tends to be so high that it outweighs any decreases in revenue caused by part-time schedules. When balanced hours are driven by business need, rather than for reasons of special accommodation, organizations find they can meet the human resource requirements and still be successful.

Paving the way for future generations

Mentoring is strategic to ensuring a healthy balance for women in the science and technology areas. Strong female leaders not only inspire young professional women to achieve their full potential, but they also can provide a sense of social support. For that reason, the legal community has been at the forefront of the female leadership movement for many years.

Half of the 2007 class of new shareholders at Heller Ehrman were women. Of these, two-thirds work in intellectual property or with high-tech and life-sciences companies. As part of an initiative to retain these top women attorneys, Heller Ehrman launched an "Opt-In Project" in May 2006 to raise awareness of the obstacles that exist for women in the work force. Since its launch, the committee has presented panel discussions at law and business schools across the country, including Penn Law, Stanford Law, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Duke Law and Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "The Opt-In Project" is Heller Ehrman's response to the so-called "Opt Out" revolution.

Additionally, in early April, a Heller Ehrman attorney launched the San Diego Chapter of MAMAs (Mother Attorneys Mentoring Association), an informal organization of attorney mothers intended as a source of support where they can network, share experiences, problem-solve and talk about issues they face at home and in the workplace.

To continue to fuel the pipeline of female leaders in the workplace, Heller Ehrman is committed to supporting UCSD Athena's Pinnacle Awards and scholarship programs. The scholarships contribute significantly to the entry of talented women into the fields of science, engineering and mathematics, ensuring that future generations will continue to realize the benefits of female leaders. UCSD Athena plays an important role in connecting young women with mentors by its Pinnacle Awards, forums and seminars.

In all areas of science and technology, "the times they are a-changing," and will keep doing so. By providing leadership and mentoring opportunities, along with ongoing social support, Athena supports changes that build a healthy balance between a rewarding career and a fulfilling personal life for both men and women.

Mann and Wolff are shareholders with Heller Ehrman LLP.

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