It's not at all surprising that most women’s initiatives at most AmLaw200 law firms have been dismal failures.
They failed because they lack buy-in; are often unfunded; and, no one takes them seriously.
The best use I’ve seen made of an unfunded women’s initiative in an AmLaw100 firm was the way the women used it. Instead of cross-referring business among specialty groups to the primarily male practice leaders, the firm’s women cross-referred to the women in the initiative.
That subverts the established order of things which tends to favor men.
People with power do not tend to freely give it away. You must take it.
That’s what women’s initiatives need.
What they primarily get is a great looking promotional brochure or well-designed web page.
I call this the summer associate bait and switch.
The firms want to attract the best and brightest law school candidate and half of them are women. The firm wants to assure the women that they have a bright future. Hence, the brochure, the web-page and the lip service.
Obviously, I’m in favor of action, which includes subversion of the established (male) order for women to get the opportunities they deserve for practice development and advancement.
My friend Lauren Stiller Rikleen who often guest posts here, has had the solution ever since her book, Ending the Gauntlet, Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law was published several years ago.
Five Keys to Success
Let’s assume that these women’s initiatives are not just Potemkin Villages but actual attempts to improve the retention and promotion of high potential women in the law. Let’s assume that law firm management (an oxymoron) just can’t figure it out.
After today, there will be no excuse. Here they are, straight from Rikleen’s keyboard to your in-box
Men must become partners in creating the template for future success.
As Rikleen explains here, for women’s initiatives to succeed, they must be focused on institutional changes, not simply band-aids. That means the men – who remain the firm leaders and hold most of the power to make the institution woman-friendly, must be active participants.
Implied Biases Must Be Recognized and Their Effects Addressed.
I’m on the diversity committee of a powerful ADR think tank. When we meet to discuss our strategies and programs to raise the number of women and minorities who are making their living as mediators, the conversation devolves into yet another discussion on the issue whether there’s bias in the profession at all.
I’ve been on the Committee for two years now and this dynamic is the primary reason why we haven’t yet gotten anything done.
We’re about to declare the promotion and retention of women and minorities in ADR Mission Critical for 2013. So keep your eyes peeled. I will be practicing what I’m preaching here.
Management Support, Accountability Structures, and Resources to Ensure Change.
Those firms who have gotten firm leader buy-in and gotten past the barrier of implied-bias-denial, must go on to “develop a variety of programming options, including speakers and training.” These programming events are not cynical, politically correct scrims meant to keep the firm’s women “happy.”
They must meet identified goals and objectives which firm leaders crafted after engaging in an process that assessed those factors that were keeping the firms women back, or, worse, making them leave in numbers that create an attrition problem for the firm and its clients.