What Happens When Women Rule?

I never have met Swanee Hunt or, more accurately and respectfully, Ambassador  Swanee Hunt.  She is the former US ambassador to Austria, the founder of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the founder of Seismic Shift, an initiative dedicated to increasing the number of women in high political office.

We share a mutual very good friend, but I keep missing Ambassador Hunt at events.  I hope that changes one day soon because we both are dedicated to advancing women in positions of leadership.  And I would like to thank her for her work.

In a recent piece for CNN News, Ambassador Hunt discussed the advances that women are making in increasing their collective representations in Congress and state legislatures in this country and in national representations in countries across the globe — countries like Iceland and Rwanda and New Zealand, where the female Prime Minister is shaking things up Down Under.

The message is that female leadership matters and not just for issues affecting women.  New organizations are springing up all over the US to encourage women candidates and to build on the momentum.  Women demonstrate remarkably effective leadership skills, and they work hard and relentlessly for positive change.  Women, especially those with children, are incredibly efficient and productive on the job.  They have the assembly line down pat.  They multitask with perfection, and they are unflappable under fire.  You can’t show them emotions they have not addressed and overcome.

However, before we get too comfortable with the rise of women leaders, we need to understand that, according to research by Bright Horizons, more than forty percent of employed Americans (a combination of men and women) consider working moms to be less devoted to their work.  And the unfortunate reality is that women fall behind in earned wages once they have children, and they never catch up.  The Motherhood Penalty is still very much an impediment to the advancement of women in the workplace, and the law profession is no exception.

Many more of you than ever before will become law firm partners, but many of you will remain non-equity partners because of your family choices.  You will watch your male colleagues overtake you in salary and opportunity — in many cases not because of your lack of skills but because of perceptions.

This is the way it is — but not the way it needs to be.  Hopefully the trends in the leadership of women that Swanee Hunt writes about and has witnessed all over the world will make a difference.

Let’s hope so.  And soon.

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Thought For The Week: It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts. John R. Wooden

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The Dangers of Leaking Young Lawyer Talent

For more than a decade I have been urging law firms to retain and advance the talent of women lawyers.  The three-book Best Friends at the Bar series has been my effort to spread those messages, and most recently I have expanded my work to include cautionary messages about ignoring and losing the talent of all young lawyers — men and women alike — in What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2018).
 
Those books and the hundreds of blogs and articles I have written and speeches I have given include discussions of the many reasons why our institutions must change to become more inclusive of young people, starting with “the right thing to do” (which is almost always overlooked as a compelling reason) and ending with the sacrifice of future leadership (which should raise huge red flags).  Simply speaking, even if equity and fairness do not win out as arguments for change, the future of the profession should be cause for concern.  You would think that would get some attention, but you may have to think again.
 
I admit to getting discouraged every time I see yet another article on these subjects.  The most recent one appeared in Financial Times earlier this week, and you can read it here.  It is a good article on the problem of leaking law firm talent in the UK, and it echoes what is going on this side of “The Pond.”  But … you have heard it all before.
The article includes arguments like:
 
  • Law firms need to reshape their cultures, moving away from “rigid” traditions and “excessive” hours so they can retain more women and attract millennial lawyers;
  • The current shortage of talent needs to be addressed as increasing numbers of young lawyers abandon private practice; and
  • More than one in five young lawyers have transitioned out of private practice to in-house positions.
The conclusion from what appears to be the continuing need for this article and so many like it is that current law firm leadership is tone deaf on the subjects.  Current leadership is not willing to tackle law firm reform with the kinds of changes that address retention — like workplace values, work-life balance, and billable hour requirements — because doing that might impact client retention.  In other words, current law firm leadership too often cares more about money and power than anything else.  And there is no question what comes out on top when development of future law firm leaders is in competition with the high demands of clients.  Someone has to pay those big salaries at the top.  The careers of young lawyers and succession plans be damned.  Current leadership won’t be around to care.
 
 
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Thought For The Week: Be humble in your confidence yet courageous in your character.” Melanie Koulouris

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More on the Negative Effect of Greed on Women Lawyers — And Men

The New York Times article that I discussed in last week’s blog is worthy of your attention.  The examples used are of husband and wife lawyers, who are struggling to raise young children.  The upshot is that one parent — typically the female — has to make sacrifices such as cutting back to part-time status, giving up promotion opportunities, and making far less in salary to make these situations work.  This is the current reality despite the fact that American women of working age are the most educated than ever before.

The statistics are all there to make you feel really depressed — and they will have that effect.  In the past, we have focused on causes like discrimination and lack of family-friendly policies in examining the effect on the careers of women lawyers, but this article cites evidence that we should not be looking at gender alone.  The culprit, according to the author, has nothing to do with who has a Y chromosome.

The culprit is corporate greed.  Greed that manifests in long, inflexible hours and winner-take-all attitudes that more often than not “flatline” the careers of one member of a couple — more often than not the women.  Add to that the fact that working 50% more hours often results in 100% more salary.  As the article points out, it is not a linear comparison, and the extra money is very important to a young family.

Although it is not just the law profession that is guilty of short-circuiting talent in this way, it becomes clear that the law profession is a leader in the shift from a reasonably-oriented service industry mentality to a culture of money, power and greed.  The important question is not who is to blame but, rather, what can be done about it.  As you will see in the article, the answer lies in worker demand and significant challenges to management.  More predictable hours and flexibility in when and where the work gets done are good places to start.

But, the goal is not to create ways to allow women to work the same long, inflexible hours as men.  As expressed by one on-line comment to the article, “No one should be doing this.   A father working constantly is not a good father or partner. Or person, for that matter. Probably not healthy either. . . No wonder this country is a mess. We’re working ourselves to a literal and existential death.”

 Hear, hear.  It is a “systems problem” and, as I have written in What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, law employers have great incentive to change the workaholic cultures they have created.  It is a total sea change that is called for not a temporary fix.  And it needs to come as soon as possible before we lose more talent than our profession can afford.

Here is my favorite quote from the article:

“Women don’t step back from work because they have rich husbands… They have rich husbands because they step back from work.”

There is a lot to think about there.

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The Effect of a Greedy Profession on Women Lawyers

The greed will consume our profession.  I first called the law profession “greedy” in an article that I wrote for Corporate Counsel magazine in the Fall of 2016.  My comments at the time were part of a discussion about women lawyers “having it all” — or not — and the impact of the values of money, power and greed on the well-being of law practitioners.

Since that time, I have seen more commenters willing to call our profession what it is — a well intentioned endeavor overcome by negative values.  This kind of candor is necessary if we are going to make any progress in changing the culture of our profession and of law firms, in particular.  Taking on the culture of money, power and greed is gaining more popularity as the millennial generation of lawyers is exhibiting radically different values than those of immediately prior generations of practitioners, and many non-millennials also are feeling more comfortable criticizing the status quo.

A recent article in the New York Times centers on the theme that women did everything right in the workplace until the workplace changed the rules and got greedy.  In other words, as women rose within the ranks of big business, married men with similar educations and business commitments, and, as couples, started having children, the obsession with long hours widened the gender gap without targeting “gender” specifically.  The need to be “on call” at work at all times meant that someone had to be “on call” at home at all times.  It could not work any other way as technology increased and time zones blended and rendered dedicated employees reachable 24/7.  As a result, couples with equal potential in the workplace took on unequal roles.

Got your attention?  Read more in next week’s blog.

 

 

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Thought For The Week: The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example. BENJAMIN DISRAELI

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Advice for Millennial Lawyers

Earlier today I was the presenter on a webinar for Thompson Reuters/West on “What Millennial Lawyers Want.”  It was a 65-minute program and contained a lot of good information on millennial lawyers, how their behaviors and expectations have developed, the responsibility that parent generations and society have in influencing that development, the values that are common to millennial lawyers and Greatest Generation lawyers, and the roles of millennial lawyers and law firm leaders in a shared solution to the Generational Divide.

Admittedly, that is a lot of content, but it was a long program!  That is how CLE works — you put in the time, and you get the credit.  Unless you are trying to get CLE credit in NY, and then you need a special code — because it is NY, right? — and I made sure I repeated that code twice!  Only in NY!

The makeup of the audience is not information that is shared with presenters prior to the program, so I have no way of knowing if any of you were listening.  But, if you were, I hope you enjoyed it.

Here is a sampling of program content on the topic of what millennial lawyers can do as their part of the shared solution:

  • Be realistic in your expectations and less sensitive to criticism;
  • Overcome your need for constant attention;
  • Get off social media and concentrate on becoming the best lawyer you can be;
  • Become more confident about your choices and decision-making — in other words, don’t take a vote before you take action;
  • Get out of your comfort zones and take on challenges and risks to advance your career and your team;
  • Understand that you do not have all the answers and LISTEN to the wisdom of lawyers who have been in the trenches for more than your lifetime;
  • Dialogue with respect at all times; and
  • Have PATIENCE.  The profession of law is inherently deliberative and slow moving most of the time.  It is no place for expectations of instant gratification.

This list may have you feeling like you are being singled out for bad behavior.  Not so!  You should see the TO DO list that I presented to law firm leaders to become responsive to the values of Millennial Lawyers and safeguard talent.

If true leaders emerge, it will result in a remodeling of law firm cultures.  And it is about time for that!

 

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