Finally, the cornerstones for sustained success are making sure that your initiative is based on trust and delivers value to members who are “giving up” billable hours to participate.
While it took some time for us to develop those characteristics, the reason our initiative is robust and our events are routinely well attended is because we are able to engage in real talk about the issues that are most important to our members and their career development. We cannot, and do not, promise to solve problems or eliminate challenges. Instead, we strive to provide actionable advice and supportive listening that allows members to know they are not alone and they can achieve their career goals.
When these topics were teed up, very clear ground rules were established at the beginning of the program: an honest conversation was going to take place and to facilitate that conversation confidentiality must reign supreme. We also made clear the conversation was taking place in a “no judgment zone” because these topics never conclude with a right or wrong answer. Women partners often started these discussions by sharing personal stories — both of successes and failures in addressing issues in the moment.
Once the partners shared, some of the associates and counsel in the room shared too. More importantly, many other junior lawyers in the room did not share anything. They listened. Sometimes they followed up after the program was over. Each of them was able to find women who had similar questions, concerns and approaches to life because, as we developed programs like this, we were intentional about putting a mix of introverts and extroverts on our panels. We wanted to make sure that our attendees would be able to find someone they could relate to and feel comfortable speaking with.
All the while, we have remembered our roots — i.e., women who know, and like each other, at work will have greater connection to their workplace and will perform at higher levels as a result. We have stayed true to those roots by having an annual dinner that includes women across all of our offices where each dinner group is no larger than eight. The dinner assignments are made to ensure that attendees are in different practice areas, come from different offices, and have varying levels of seniority. We empower our junior women at those dinners to be table captains and lead discussion of both personal and professional topics.
In addition, we host one “light and breezy” event each year where our women can engage their creative side and have a casual evening of fun, e.g., a crafting event. Finally, to create a culture of inclusion among our women, we have devised an “Ambassador Program” where mid to senior level associates are assigned to welcome new women who have joined the firm. Our ambassadors are tasked with writing a welcome note and delivering a specially branded women’s initiative gift. The ambassadors then make sure that the new hire is aware of upcoming women’s initiatives events and offer to bring her to those programs and facilitate introductions to other group members.
February 2020 marks the five year anniversary of our women’s initiative and I cannot be more proud of what we have built and sustained. I have made many new friends and, even as I enter my 26th year of practice, I continue to learn from my colleagues new ways to enjoy practicing as a woman in Big Law. I am confident that we are all better because we have each other and our women’s initiative.
As demonstrated above, leadership, collaboration, inclusivity, and mutual respect are the key ingredients to the secret sauce. Women’s initiatives that combine these ingredients can be successful regardless of their size. And, it is equally important to remember that success is not in numbers, not the number of programs you offer, or the number of members you have. Success is offering a few events each year that have great impact by teaching women about themselves and others, and equips them with one or two tools to enhance who they are. Success is when women learn and grow from one another, genuinely and organically, and with each other, and the organization’s greatest role in that success is offering them the space and support to do so.