By Susan Smith Blakely • May 02, 2014•Careers, Other Career Issues
There is a new book out that is worth the read for all women lawyers --- and for their male colleagues. That book, Sponsoring Women: What Men Need to Know, was not written solely with male lawyers in mind, but it sure fits the bill. That is no big surprise because the author, Ida Abbott, is a lawyer and has been helping employers develop, manage and retain legal talent since 1995.
I am particularly excited about this new book because the theme of "men sponsoring and supporting women" has been high on my list of "must do's" for a long time. However, it will not happen in a vacuum, and women must take the responsibility for educating men about the special challenges for women in business (including the law), and women need to take that responsibility very seriously.
I can hear you now. "Why do we women always have to do everything for the men? When are they going to take responsibility for themselves?" Well, I wish that I could tell you that was an unreasonable response, but I can't. I know how tired you get of taking the initiative and serving up solutions to the men you live with and the men you work for. However, consider the alternative. If you do not become a part of the solution instead of what men perceive as a part of the problem, very little progress for women will be made. This is nothing more than a risks-benefits analysis, and the risks of waiting until men figure it out for themselves is too great.
If I sound impatient, I am. I am impatient with many of the women attorneys in positions of leadership who have the attitude that women can make it to the top on their own. They recite it chapter and verse at the women attorneys gatherings, and you young women start to believe it. That attitude is short-sighted, and it fails to recognize that men still control our profession and that gender differences are not going to go away just because we are strong and capable women. Quite simply, we need the support of men, and we need to take every opportunity to educate them.
I also am impatient with the men, who do not take their own responsibilities for mentoring and sponsorship of women seriously. I whole-heartedly agree with these words of Ida Abbott:
“Women need the sponsorship of men, and men owe it to women, not because men are to blame but because they are in control. Otherwise they limit their firms’ potential for top performance, growth and innovation.”
Several years ago, I contributed to a panel at an ABA Section Conference, which was designed around the themes of my books. The Section was then and still is made up primarily of seasoned male torts and insurance practice lawyers. A visionary male friend of mine was the conference chair, and he believed that these lawyers needed some nudging on understanding the special challenges to women lawyers. The program was a great success, and the male attendees were very attentive and responsive. As I suspected, it is not that men do not want to understand our challenges or can't understand our challenges. No, the problem is that most of them lack the initiative to do it without prodding.
So, buy the book for the favorite --- or most problematic --- men in your life. Buy it for your mentor, supervisor, managing partner, general counsel — or someone you wish would sponsor you. The book has been described as "genius in its simplicity, and powerful in its practicality," and "a must-have for men who are well-meaning and want to help, but are not sure how."
So, what do you have to lose? Remember that men are not always clueless by choice.
Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and a 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. Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business. Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession.
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she taught legal research and writing. She also is a Marshall Goldsmith trained career and leadership coach and a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches. She also is a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy. For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com.