Protect Yourself as a Woman and Protect Your Daughters

I cannot stay out of the discussion any longer.  To do so would be to ignore my status as a woman and would lead to feelings that I had condoned atrocious and injurious behavior.  So, I have to speak out.

The recent focus on domestic violence is shocking.  It is shocking not just because it happens but because it happens with such frequency. We now are seeing celebrities as well as more common folk come forward to say, “Me, too.”

Men are still striking out at women, physically and verbally, just because they are women.  Women typically are less powerful and can be easy targets for the frustration that is becoming more and more prevalent in our society.

The insidious pattern of behavior that we are seeing from the world of professional sports is a terrible thing, and, yet, it also presents an opportunity — an opportunity to raise the visibility of these unacceptable practices and to eliminate them.  We must hope it does not become an opportunity lost.

It all starts with respect.  To be respected, you first must respect yourself.  How many times have I spoken about this to audiences of women lawyers who feel caught in their professional situations and are rendered powerless?  I tell them to respect themselves and to respect their choices.  Just as you have a choice to leave a profession or to perform it in a less conventional way, you have a choice to leave an abuser.

Many of you who listen to my messages about choice within the professional context will also be victims of domestic violence.  That is why I am talking to YOU about this today.  The statistics show that there will be women in every audience where I speak who will become victims of domestic violence at some time in their lifetimes.  Now, as I look out at those audiences of the future, I always will wonder who they are and how I can help them. 

One thing is for sure.  Domestic violence crosses racial, class and income lines with impunity.  Do not assume that it cannot happen to you or to your best friend or your daughter.  We now know that it can and it will.

Last week I wrote a blog that challenged the concept of working women lawyers as “disadvantaged.”  I ended that blog by stating that, even though my career had taken many detours because of my need to care for my family, I never felt disadvantaged.  I felt empowered.  I knew I had a choice, and I made it.

Respect, dignity, power.  All women can have them, but they must be brave enough to choose them.  No one is going to give respect, dignity and power to us until we prove that we deserve it and we expect it.  That is just the way it works.

Please talk to your friends about this.  Read my next blog where I will outline some of the ways that you can protect your daughters.  Help each other to be powerful and demand the dignity and the respect that each of you deserves.  Do not become a statistic of domestic violence because you do not want to rock the boat or give up financial security.

Choose to choose.  And choose yourself.

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Thought For The Day

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…

Theodor Seuss Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”)

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Thought For The Day

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.

Mark Twain

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Why We Need Men in the Conversations about Retention of Women Lawyers

Why do we need the men?  I hear this too much when I attend conferences of women lawyers around the country.  The sentiment is that women lawyers have the power to succeed on their own, and we do not need the men to help us do it.  I hear women say that we will succeed in increasing retention rates and the number of women lawyers in positions of management and leadership by putting pressure on law firms through female general counsels of corporate clients—-a sort of “we’ll show them whose got the power” attitude.

I have blogged about this before, but I am doing it again because it is a very important subject.  I also was reminded of it lately when I read an article titled “I am sick of talking about the work-life struggle with no men present.” The young woman author, a principal in a law firm, had this to say:

[O]ne topic that I’m really tired of hearing about is the struggle of women trying to ‘juggle’ or ‘have it all’ (which invariably means ‘children + work = gasp!’). I’m not sick of the topic because it shouldn’t be talked about. I’m sick of the topic because we don’t seem to have progressed the conversation, or the solutions, in a long time.

I’m particularly sick of talking about this topic when there are no men present.

Yes, it’s an important issue. Yes, I believe that women are still disadvantaged because of their child-rearing and caring responsibilities. But I also believe that this isn’t just a problem for women to solve.

This young woman could be singing off my song sheet!  In summary, we do need the men, and here is why.

Although I understand and respect the power of women general counsel in helping to bring about more diversity in law firms, I disagree with this exclusionary approach.  I say so in every speech I deliver at law schools, law firms and law organizations around the country, and I encourage the organizations where I speak to recruit men to the programs.

As I have said before on this blog, I think the exclusionary approach is very shortsighted.  Are we really going to do to men what we have accused them of doing to us for generations?  Are we going to form our own Old Girls Clubs where men cannot gain entrance or have to come in through the back door with the help?  Are we going to exclude men from seats at the table because we do not value their opinions or, worse, as reprisal?

On the contrary, I think that we need men at the table to make sure that management and leadership hear how difficult the challenges for women are and to educate them about the difficulties in finding satisfactory and lasting solutions.  We need the men to take co-ownership of the problems and to have a vested interest in improving conditions and finding solutions.

In particular, we need to educate them on the benefits of retention of women lawyers to the bottom lines at law firms and other legal employers and to best practices in the profession.  Those benefits include: Retaining talent; protecting business relationships by responding to the diversity requests of corporate clients; ensuring viable succession plans; and avoiding the costs of replacing senior associates, which can be as high as $500,000 per associate.

We know that men don’t understand some of these women’s issues, but that is the very reason we want them in the conversations.  That way, we have a captive audience and can educate and influence.  That also is why I have written a third book, which will come out next year, directed to law firm leadership (predominately men) and its role in mentoring women lawyers and contributing to solutions to the grim retention statistics.  We all know that law firm leaders needs to start to “lean in” on this subject, and they need to know it, too.

Excluding male lawyers from the conversations is not a good idea.  We do that at our own risk.  It is better to co-opt them and make them part of the solutions.

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Young Lawyer | 2 Comments

Thought For The Day

[Women are] probably at an unfair advantage, maybe because we know we can’t rely upon a good right hook. …  But that’s not what we have been taught to do.  Women are masters of diplomacy.

Tea Leoni, commenting in Parade Magazine about her new TV role as Madame Secretary

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Time to Celebrate the OnRamp Fellowship Again!

I have written a lot about the issues of leaving practice and the challenges of returning at a later date, and I address that issue in almost every speech I give at law schools, law firms and law organizations.  We saw many women lawyers leave practice in the 1990’s and early 2000’s for personal reasons, and now many of those women would like to get back into practice.  However, it has proven to be a daunting task for them, and the number of women lawyers wishing to return to practice has increased, as reported in a New York Times article in the summer of 2013.

Last year, however, an enterprising entrepreneur and some leading law firms came to the rescue.   If you have not heard about the OnRamp Fellowship, check out this former BFAB Blog.   At the accomplished hand of founder Caren Ulrich Stacy and cooperating law firms, there is now a program to bring women lawyers back into the law firm folds.  The program is very competitive and includes a salary paid by the law firms for women lawyers to return to their former firms for a year to update their legal skills and compete for permanent positions.  It is more than a start, as evidenced by its success.

The program is now in its second year.  The four firms that seeded the program, Baker Botts, Cooley, Hogan Lovells  and Sidley Austin, have now been joined by eleven additional firms:  Ackerman, Baker Donelson, Blank Rome, Crowell & Moring, Fenwick & West, Fish & Richardson, Fried Frank, Jenner & Block, K & L Gates, Orrick, and White & Case.

The program draws on recruiting techniques that have proven effective for developing corporate executives for decades.  The OnRamp Fellowship administrators conduct thorough organizational and cultural analyses of high performers at law firms, to assure a good fit for program participants.  Applicants undergo lengthy screening, which includes personality and skills assessment, and the women lawyers, who are selected to participate in the program, are provided with mentors and advisors, inside and outside the law firms, to give them the support they need to be successful in the re-entry process.

Here is how Caren Ulrich Stacy explains the growth of the program:

“Due to the overwhelming interest in the Fellowship — as demonstrated by the 15,000 hits to the website, the 170 women who applied initially, and the 30 law firms that inquired about participating — we expanded the pilot program to include a select number of top firms.  By participating in the first “Returnship” ever launched in the legal field, [the] 15 [participating] law firms are trailblazers.  They are benefitting the profession as well as their own firms by forging a new pathway back for women lawyers who took a break and want to return.”

The OnRamp Fellowship deserves congratulations from all of us.  Here is mine!

For more on the OnRamp Fellowship, check out the website.

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Thought For The Day

A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner.

English Proverb

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Thought For The Day

Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.

Marian Wright Edelman

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