Last week I attended the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) Annual Conference in NYC. It was an especially good time for me to be with that group because my new book, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, had come out the week of the conference. Coincidentally, the theme of this year’s conference was “Harnessing Our Power To Lead,” and there was a lot of interest in the book. It was a great time to connect with fellow women lawyers and catch up on what is important to them in a rapidly-changing profession.
The breakout session, “Lessons From Men Who Lead By Example” was of particular interest to me, especially as it relates to the new book. The panel consisted of two male corporate general counsel and a male managing partner of a national law firm. The premise was that women need the support of men in the profession in meeting the challenge to raise the retention rates and increase the opportunities for advancement to leadership and management for women in the profession.
All of the panelists agreed that unconscious gender bias needs to be talked about and eliminated. If you are uncertain what unconscious gender bias is, I suggest that you read about it in my new book, particularly Chapter One “Why Women Lawyers Leave.” It is a subject you need to know about. The panelists emphasized that women need to have the same opportunities to succeed as men in the profession, and that individuals and organizations must be held accountable to make that happen. They also agreed that women are very strong and that women lawyers should have the opportunity to decide their own limitations without those limitations being predisposed by others. I loved the reference to Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: “A women is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Remember that one!
Another quote, this time from the law firm managing partner, caught my attention. To assure that talented women lawyers join his firm and continue in the practice, he said that he makes sure he sends the message that “others may not care about you, but I do.” I have been suggesting to law firm managers and senior lawyers for years that they keep several of my books on hand to give to women recruits who they really want to join their firms. They can get a leg up on the competition by handing the young interviewee a book and demonstrating that they care about the futures and successes of women in the practice. It is so easy, and the message is so powerful. Most young women would be tempted to join that firm right on the spot!
Here are a few more messages from this impressive panel:
- Women lawyers do not want privilege. They want equality;
- When you are being marginalized, power through it. People will “try you” whenever they can. You need to let them know who they are dealing with, with respect and dignity; and
- Always stay true to your values.
It was a great conference. Tune into the next blog for a discussion of the breakout session “The Art of Self-Promotion: It’s Not Bragging, It’s Building Your Brand.”