Susan Smith Blakely

Women Supporting Women—- Women Lawyers Should Follow the White House Lead

As women lawyers, you know the drill, and so do the women of the White House.  Female White House staffers and women lawyers (who often also are White House staffers) have a lot in common when it comes to grueling hours, hyper-aggressive colleagues, and lack of access to the boss ---- which all can have an adverse impact on the retention and advancement of women in the workplace.  It is very challenging, but the women at the White House have discovered an effective approach that you need to know about.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, the subject of women supporting women was front and center.  In this case, the focus was on "crashing the code of power" and the strategy of "amplification," which was developed by women in the White House based on their desire to be included in the conversations and taken seriously at high level briefings.  Too often they were left out of the discussions or their comments were marginalized.  So, they developed an effective way of dealing with an unsatisfactory situation.  "When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author.  This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution --- and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own."

Thus, the strategy of amplification was born.  The result, as described in the article, was that President Obama noticed, and he began calling more often on women staffers and junior aides.  Key to that result was a conversation that some senior female aides had with the President in 2009.  They wanted greater access to key policy discussions, and they also wanted male superiors to stop blocking them in their attempts.

They got it --- and more.  The number of women in advisory positions at the White House has increased, and there also has been some improvement on the work-life front.  Valerie Jarrett, White House senior advisor, says that, "Critical mass makes a difference" on the gender issues.

Read the article for more details and recent changes at the White House that have improved conditions for working mothers.  There is still not pay parity between men and women at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but some of that may be dependent on past experience --- when men had so much more access to seats of power, resulting in a distinct advantage over time.

Access to power and work-life issues are critically important to upward mobility for women.  The solutions to the pervasive inequities begin with having your concerns and your voices heard.   Always remember that it is not enough just to be "in the room" with power.  You have to speak up and have your ideas and your comments heard. 

Practice the fine art of amplification like women of the White House.  Follow their lead on being relevant and fighting for it.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Lawyerist. Com, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law, and she is the recipient of a Lawyer Monthly Women in Law Award 2016.

Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

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