Lessons from the past can propel your future
For me, this career has always been about having choices and the freedom to create the life I wanted. Growing up, I was aware of the consequences of women not having economic independence. I was particularly influenced by my grandmother in Michigan, a talented local radio host who was limited by her time and circumstances. She was confident, smart and accomplished—everything I aspired to be. But that wasn’t enough to secure her place in the world or a sense of security. When her marriage faltered, she lost all of that. Having a significant career was nonnegotiable for me as a result.
Looking back, my certainty was probably naive. When I started at a firm, I didn’t appreciate how low the odds of making partner for women were. I couldn’t have imagined that—20 years out of law school—the percentages of law firm equity partners who are women would not be much better than when I graduated. Regardless, I think my doggedness was the single most important factor in my success.
Fresh out of law school, I didn’t know exactly what being a corporate lawyer would look like. It turned out it was a great fit for me—I found my niche in debt finance and truly enjoy it. But on the way, there were periods when the job engulfed almost everything else in my life. When you are developing the skills, judgment and expertise necessary to advance, your life will sometimes be out of balance. Luckily I had a wonderful and understanding partner, and our shared goal of building a family and future together sustained me. Being able to focus on the bigger picture compelled me to keep going.
Every professional woman has a unique support structure, and I am always fascinated by how the women I know rely on their partners, family, friends and paid professionals to enable them to pursue their career goals. I am fortunate that my wife, Amy, and I aren’t burdened by traditional gender norms of who is supposed to do what. We have a fluidity about our home responsibilities that shifts with the demands of our careers.
The important thing to remember about having a career that allows you to have choices is to actually make the choices that are right for you. Amy and I knew that adoption was how we wanted to have our family. It was a long and unpredictable road that led to our precious son. Once he was in our lives, I wanted to be around for as much of his early years as possible. I took every day of my maternity leave and wouldn’t trade that time for anything. He just turned 3, and I have made it a point to be home for his bath and bedtime ritual most nights. For me, choices like that make this career continue to be sustainable.
Now as a senior partner, I have made it a priority to be a mentor and resource for the women behind me. I am the co-chair of Kirkland’s gender subcommittee and vice-chair of the New York recruiting committee. I think about the brilliant and talented women in earlier generations who did not live in a society that supported their ambition and about how far our own has to go to do so for all women and girls. I am filled with gratitude for what I have achieved and determination to do what I can to make this career a reality for more young women. My grandmother’s legacy demands nothing less.
Ashley Gregory is a corporate partner in Kirkland & Ellis’ New York City office whose practice focuses on debt financing. She primarily represents public and private corporate borrowers and private equity clients in connection with complex financing transactions. Making It Work is a column in partnership with the Working Mother Best Law Firms for Women initiative in which lawyers share how they manage both life’s challenges and work’s demands. Visit workingmother.com for more.
Ashley Gregory is a corporate partner in Kirkland & Ellis’ New York City office whose practice focuses on debt financing. She primarily represents public and private corporate borrowers and private equity clients in connection with complex financing transactions.
Making It Work is a column in partnership with the Working Mother Best Law Firms for Women initiative in which lawyers share how they manage both life’s challenges and work’s demands. Visit workingmother.com for more.