The Spotlight on Flex showcases professionals from member organizations who exemplify personal and professional success while working a flexible schedule. Their stories illustrate the long-term benefits that flexible schedules offer to both individuals and organizations.
This month, we are pleased to share insights from Cheryl Tedeschi Sloane, Associate in the Miami office of White & Case LLP.
Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career?
Cheryl Tedeschi Sloane: I first came to White & Case as a summer associate. Upon graduation, I joined the firm’s financial restructuring group until leaving for a federal clerkship a couple of years later. While exploring post-clerkship opportunities, I ran into a few partners from the firm’s litigation practice and realized that returning as a litigator was the right choice. Eventually I had my first child, and then came my second. I was nine months pregnant when preparing for a two-week jury trial and also co-parenting a toddler with my working husband. It was an intense time. After the trial and the arrival of our second child, I was certain of two things: I loved my job, and I required a new schedule. Because I truly enjoyed the work and the people at White & Case, I decided I had to find out whether I could make the firm’s flexible work policy work for me before exploring any other options.
The litigation group was busy when I was preparing to return from maternity leave, and the partners were ready to integrate me back at 100 percent. I appreciated being needed and wanted, but I knew I needed to come back at 80 percent. The firm’s Regional Section Head and the office’s practice head listened carefully to my “ask” and supported me in implementing this new arrangement. Ultimately, the firm’s flex time policy did exactly what it is supposed to – it got me to stay.
No one in our Miami office was working reduced hours under the firm’s formal policy at the time, so I didn’t have a blueprint for success. My biggest fear was getting flexibility at the cost of being overlooked for the good work our department was generating. It truly was a leap of faith, and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t an either/or proposition. One person in particular was instrumental in making sure my flex arrangement got off on the right foot. A litigation partner contacted me right after I made my “ask.” She told me that she fully supported me, and she had an integration plan that would capitalize on my litigation skills for her upcoming jury trial. That phone call meant everything to me. Having just completed a trial months before, I was excited about this opportunity and cautiously optimistic about how it would work with my new schedule. It worked out great! We both understood there were times when I would need to work greater than 80 percent to win the trial, but by taking on discrete parts of the case, I could control the “how, when, and where” the work was performed. During my review that year, I was able to say that I came back from a five-month maternity leave, had two jury trials under my belt, and was on reduced hours.
DFA: How has working flexibly enhanced your career sustainability and business development?
CTS: I was – probably like many other women – worried about how becoming a mother would affect the passion I felt for my career. I pleasantly discovered that having kids reaffirmed my career choice; I had this multi-faceted life that I really enjoyed. Again, it was not an either/or proposition, and the firm’s flex policy ensured that. There’s a misconception that flex time is something people would like to do versus it’s something they need for sustainability. Flexibility keeps people from dropping out.
I think professional development and business development go hand-in-hand. I have to demonstrate to partners and clients alike how I’m going to add value on cases and then make good on those promises. Being on flex means making the most out of every opportunity. For example, although traveling for business cuts into my flex arrangement, I’ve found it highly beneficial to my development. A three-hour flight is valuable time with a partner, mentor, or client. It’s not just about logging hours – it’s about utilizing my time to develop my business acumen.
DFA: Would you do anything different or what would you tell your first year associate self?
CTS: I would tell my younger self that everything comes in ebbs and flows. There will be times when your work predominates and times when it cannot. Step back and ask yourself if, on the whole, you are getting what you want. I’d also tell my younger, “flex time” self that just because you’re on a reduced hours schedule, don’t think you can still do it all, all the time. You’ll still miss cocktail hours and teacher conferences. And as soon as you see an avalanche of work heading your way, talk to your partner so they’re prepared to step up. Call in the troops (i.e., grandparents, babysitters, friends) to help fill in the gaps. Buy frozen dinners. Knowing that things are covered back home will greatly reduce your stress and allow you to focus on what’s going on at work. In short, anticipate and plan ahead because even with flexibility, you can’t be all things at all times.
DFA: How do you recharge your batteries and pay it forward?
CTS: I tell our firm’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion to use me as a flex-time example and resource. I speak candidly and openly with recruits and associates about my arrangement, and I’ve shared my experience with women at other firms who are exploring the idea of going on flex.
On a personal level, I recharge by reclaiming one hour a day for myself – 9 pm. Unless work requires me to log back on in the evening at that time, this magical hour is mine. I found a gym that offers classes at 9 pm and a guitar instructor who was willing to give weekly lessons at 9 pm. I’ve also started monthly 9 pm meet ups with my local network of friends at a neighborhood café. This one hour carve out is really special and definitely helps recharge my batteries.
If you are an attorney working a flexible schedule and would like to share your story in an upcoming Spotlight on Flex, contact Eliza Musallam.