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.

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