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How to Freeze Your Salary: Get Pregnant

The relentless pressure to devote more hours to the office hasn’t gone away, even with anti-discrimination laws.
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Photo illustration: 731; Photo: Getty Images

Nilab Tolton had been working as an associate at the ­international litigation firm Jones Day for five years when she learned she was pregnant. Looking back, Tolton says she knew but also didn’t know—at least not in a conscious, articulable kind of way—that having a kid was going to complicate her goal to make partner. Women make up half of Jones Day’s junior associates but only a quarter of its partners. (Jones Day has represented Bloomberg in a number of ­employment-related matters.) The century-old firm boasts a client list—Toyota, Starbucks, General Electric—that looks like the S&P 500 and demands the kind of round-the-clock attention from employees that only single people or those with a stay-at-home spouse can easily give. But Tolton had landed at Jones Day straight out of Harvard Law School for a reason. She wasn’t afraid of long hours. She was willing to do the work.

“In my eternal optimism, I took the lack of female partners as an opportunity rather than a signal that I’d meet the same fate,” Tolton says. She spent her pregnancy pulling all-­nighters and working through the weekend to preemptively make up for the 5½ months of maternity leave that some of the male partners jokingly referred to as her impending “vacation.” For a while, her efforts seemed to pay off. “Holy cow! ... You’re not supposed to be that smart at 9.5 months pregnant!” one partner wrote in an email after Tolton, who’d started her maternity leave, sent him her latest work.