Susan Smith Blakely

Did Annemarie Slaughter Finally Get It Right?

I try not to be picky.  Really I do.  But, I have to pick a little today.

I read the Washington Post Book World article in the Sunday, September 26th edition, and I started to feel the urge to pick.  The article, "Is 'having it all' as simple as getting men to demand it, too?" caused that reaction.  The article, written by Jill Abramson, former editor of the NY Times and current teacher at Harvard, addressed a new book by Anne-Marie Slaughter.  You will remember Anne-Marie Slaughter because of her essay in the Atlantic in 2012 telling young women that they could not have it all.  She was a professor at Princeton and a mother to at least one teenage boy (in New Jersey) at the time that she was trying to be a high-level State Department official (in DC), and she found that difficult.  Yes, who would not?

Now comes her new book, Unfinished Business, where, among other things, she makes the clarion call for valuing care and care-giving and the positive effect this will have in retaining and advancing women in the workplace and improving the care of their families.  She also invokes the call to men to join the conversation and demand change as well, and she views this as critical to getting positive attention to the subject.

So far, so good.  I certainly have no quarrel with that.  Where I start to fall away from the cheering crowds is when she uses the new book as an opportunity to apologize for her prior misconceptions, as reflected in the Atlantic essay.  She is sorry about her "naive" expectation about having it all and, it seems, her strident disappointment and highly personal approach to a subject that affects women at all class and education levels, and she seems to be trying to distance herself from the entitled person she appeared to be in 2012.  At the same time, however, she appears to blame the magazine for a title and cover art (of a toddler "crammed" into a briefcase) that was designed to sell magazines.   As if she did not benefit from the frenzy that the sensationalist art and provocative title created.  Me thinks that the author and the publisher were hand-in-glove on that one.

I am trying to remember that everyone deserves a second chance, and Ms. Slaughter is taking hers. She is trying to set the record straight and address important issues of work-life balance and discrimination against care and care-giving, and for that I applaud her.  As Jill Abramson writes, " [Slaughter] is right that there is something fundamentally wrong with a society that values managing money so much more than raising children well."

However, as a coach and motivational writer and speaker on behalf of women lawyers, I am a bit put off by the fact that, for three long years, Ms. Slaughter's message that you cannot have it all has been affecting women in ways that has caused them to reject and leave the legal profession.  Those stakes are high.  Let's get it right the first time. Let's remember what our responsibility is and that our audiences are young and impressionable.  A Princeton professor is likely to get their attention.

As I have so often written, you can have some of it all of the time and all of it some of the time, but it is the rare woman lawyer who can have all of it all of the time.  That does not mean, however, that you cannot have it all.  It simply means that you cannot have it all ALL of the time.  Not many people can, men and women alike.  It also does not mean that you should give up and stop trying to make the best of your professional life.  It does not mean that you cannot find ways to improve the illusive "balance" and find a work-life mix that fits your needs and the needs of your family.  Because you can, and I witness many women lawyers doing that every day.  The "all" in "having it all" is personal, and having a personal definition of success is the fuel that drives feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction in both our personal and professional lives.

That is what I will continue to write about and speak about.  It needs to be said in a responsible manner.  Maybe that is what we finally are getting from Anne-Marie Slaughter with Unfinished Business.  I hope so.

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, focuses on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in July 2015.

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, 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.

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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