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Lucas: In 2012, can women in the law really have it all?

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EidtPerspLucas-sigThe ranks of high-powered women who have fought the notion that it is impossible to have both a demanding career and a happy family seem to have lost a warrior.

International lawyer and Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served as director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department from 2009 to 2011, caught many off guard with her article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” The article – the cover story in the July/August issue of The Atlantic magazine – has people talking.

It is not the work itself or even the amount of if that seems to get in the way, according to Slaughter, it is the way America’s economy and society are structured. She blames what she calls the culture of “time macho” that rewards those who work longer and harder than anyone else. And she says that the problem is especially acute in law firms where there is a “cult of billable hours” and office face time that provide the wrong incentive for those who hope to integrate work and family. “Having control over your schedule,” she said, “is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.”

Slaughter came to this realization while working in her “foreign policy dream job” in Washington, D.C. Because her husband and two sons lived in Princeton, N.J., she had to live away from them during the week and commute home on weekends. The stress on the family was too much. She decided that when her two-year commitment was over, she would change her original plan to stay in Washington as long as her party was in power, and she would return to Princeton.

It was the reaction to her decision that motivated her to write. There were those who expressed pity that she had to leave her dream job, and others, somewhat to her surprise, were condescending, proclaiming there is no need to compromise. Suddenly, she said, the penny dropped.

“All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).”

She said that the minute she found herself in a job structure typical for many women in this country – working long hours on someone else’s schedule – she could no longer be both the parent and professional she wanted to be.

Slaughter cites the Supreme Court of the United States as an example. She points out that every male Supreme Court justice has a family; two of the three women on the court are single without children.

Just to be clear, she is not saying this is an all-or-nothing proposition. Slaughter remains a full-time career woman who teaches a full course load, writes regularly on foreign policy, gives 40 to 50 speeches per year, and does regular media appearances.

She says women of her generation “have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with, even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions between family and career, because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation.” But members of the younger generation have stopped listening, she adds, feeling that their predecessors “airbrushed reality” when they talk about having it all.

So here I sit, wondering what it is really like to be a woman – or a man, for that matter – trying to balance the demands of work and family in today’s law firms. Let me know if you believe it is possible to work long hours but still have a balanced family life. If your law firm or business is doing something innovative to support families, I’d like to hear about that, too! Email your thoughts to klucas@ibj.com.•

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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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