Thursday, May 29, 2014
I want to come back to John's post from yesterday. This really resonates with me. This was my experience during my tenure in a Washington, D.C. law firm. Gender equity and diversity came not from women’s support groups, what we now call lean in circles, but from men in power delegating and dispensing power to women.
Early in my second year at the law firm, 1992, 22 years ago, we had a ladies lunch. Officially a business lunch of women associates at the firm, maybe 30 plus women in the room. We heard testimonies of women who exemplified how they were making it work. One woman, a senior associate, told how her male supervising partner valued her work, allowed her to go to 80% time so she could work 9-5, and how her husband had primary caregiving responsibility for their two young children. Another junior associate told how it was easier for her to have her two children early in her career, as the ongoing years increased responsibility and client connection that unlike a research memo, could not be easily transferred. Another senior associate advised to make yourself indispensable to your supervising partner, always doing excellent work, making yourself accessible at home (this was before cell phones found you anywhere).
But none of this is what really made a material difference to the women attorneys. What mattered was the men in power investing in their women associates. (There were only a handful of female partners among the hundreds at the firm at the time). Providing good work, mediating any client issues, and supporting those women as they came up through the ranks in terms of promotion and salary. One male partner I worked for from the start threw me into depositions, briefing, oral arguments, and wrote solid, supportive, professional advancement reviews. Another provided helpful professional advice as to next steps and development, providing opportunities for professional growth and increasingly sophisticated lawyering. Conversely, another relegated me as a senior associate to the backroom and bottom-tier status of fact gather and memo writer on an antitrust case. In another example, my friend and colleague became partner while on permanent part-time status, again, proactively sponsored by a senior male partner from the firm's management group.
It doesn’t take one mastermind to change the world. It takes each person in power simply training, promoting, and investing equally in women. Maybe that has to be deliberate and planned until it becomes reflexive.