Susan Smith Blakely

Have Women Lawyers Lost Something on Their Way to Becoming Leaders?

This article from The Atlantic caught my eye on my news feed earlier this week.  It addresses what the writer thinks women have lost in advancing their opportunities in the workplace.  It is a historical perspective, but the message is meant to be very au courant.

Although I have my own thoughts on the downside for women as we struggled to take our places at the tables of power in law and business and some of the messages that worked against the causes we were trying to advance, I have not given much thought to the kind of loss that is addressed in The Atlantic article.  I think I should have, and, as a result, I think you should, too.

You all are familiar with the balance themes that I and others write about.  But this is different.  The question posited in this article is how much can women advance in the workplace without leaving other valuable contributions on the cutting board?  But it is not the typical contributions to home and family that is addressed in this piece.  Rather, it is contributions of a different, albeit related, nature like the benefits of community involvement and volunteerism?  The article compels the reader to ask how important those other things are, to both individuals and to society.  In other words, we know that it is almost impossible to be committed to careers in law and business and also have time for the Girl Scouts, the community board or the grass roots political cause, but should we care?  Should we strive to do something about it?

I am surprised that I had not focused on this before.  I have devoted a huge amount of time and effort to charities and community concerns over my career as a lawyer, and it has enriched my life.  I have volunteered at the lowest levels and also been on boards of directors for a music association, a women's charity, a civic association and, now, a land and conservation trust.  Honestly, I do not know who I would be without this kind of involvement.  But, that does not make it easy, and that does not make it for you.

However, I think you would gain some valuable perspective just by reading the article.  It is lengthy, so I will share the last paragraph with you.  It is good food for thought.

As women have taken greater positions of leadership in the United States, they have also left a leadership vacuum behind them. In middle-class, highly educated communities, women may be busier and more tired than their mothers and grandmothers once were, but they mostly figure out ways to advocate for their kids at school-board meetings or volunteer to chaperone a class trip to the zoo. The people who have suffered most aren’t white and well-off; they’re lower income, poorly educated, and largely disconnected from the rich network of membership-based associations that used to provide both a local sense of community and a national voice in politics. Women in these positions have lost access to one of their only means of gaining leadership skills. And while many of their educated, wealthier peers now have alternatives to the suffocating housewife’s life that so enraged Betty Friedan seven decades ago, some experience it as an opposite kind of suffocation: a never-ending, ladder-climbing work life, the height of which is making money for someone else rather than building a world in which they’re invested.

Tell me what you think.  In October I will be speaking at a DirectHer Network event in Washington, DC.  The members of the DirectHer Network work tirelessly to place women on corporate boards of directors where the can utilize their invaluable leadership skills.  I will be happy to include your comments in my remarks there.


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

Write a comment

Please login to comment

Remember Me

Become a Member

FREE online community for women in the legal profession.



Subscribe to receive regular updates, news, and events from Ms. JD.

Connect with us

Follow or subscribe