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PERE: Scaling the maternal wall

Firms in the industry need to offer greater flexibility to address the perpetual work-life balance conundrum, says Susan Swanezy, partner at Hodes Weill & Associates.

We celebrated a milestone at Hodes Weill & Associates recently, the naming of our sixth partner, Stuart Elizabeth Baldwin. Stuart’s admission to the partnership recognizes her critical importance in the formation of our company seven years ago and in her leadership of our project management team and at the firm overall. But what is additionally gratifying to me, a 30-year real estate veteran with three children, is that Stuart was named a partner at our firm only a few months after returning to work full-time from maternity leave as a new mom.

I came of age when women would hide their pregnancies for fear of missing promotions, of not being staffed on interesting deals, and of being written off as ‘short-timers’. This prompted me to reflect whether attitudes toward attracting and retaining talented women are finally beginning to change. Are young professionals like Stuart, who are invaluable to their companies, able to navigate the numerous demands of their positions and play leadership roles in their firms, while also being present, caring mothers to their children? That is our goal for Stuart and all our female colleagues.

The number of women in leadership positions in our industry is still far too low, denying our critical input and perspective. But how can we help working mothers scale the biggest obstacle to advancement – the ‘maternal wall’? That is, how do we, as employers, help women navigate nature’s cruel irony that their prime career building years coincide with their child bearing years, and that integrating both is a perpetual challenge?

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