A unique event, the Transformative Leadership Awards dinner, was held in Chicago on May 24th. A large sold-out ballroom audience honored female leaders in the legal profession.
Emphasis was placed on the critical role general counsel play in advancing change within the legal profession. Women currently hold 85 of the top attorney positions in the Fortune 500, and two of those leaders co-moderated the program (Sue Bettman from RR Donnelley and Michele Coleman-Mays from Allstate). Eighty-five out of 500 may sound light for gender diversity, but this number is growing rapidly and the overall percentage of female inside counsel exceeds 50 percent.
Although mentoring and role modeling were celebrated, the dinner took on a refreshingly candid business tone. With general counsel controlling more purse string power than ever, awards were given to GCs who support female rainmakers and women-owned law firms. Large firms with substantial female management profiles (still uncommon) were honored. And co-moderator Coleman-Mays instructed the influential peer-to-peer audience to “peruse and use” the sponsors who supported this event. Since my firm was indeed one of the proud sponsors, I certainly hope GCs heed her advice.
A recurring theme of the evening was valuing peer-to-peer networks. I admit to finding some irony in this message when it is delivered by a woman and, particularly, as with Coleman-Mays, an African-American woman. Women and minorities in business have been fighting for years to break into, or through, “old boys” networks. So, on some level it seems surprising to hear women advocate for club-like behavior. Logically, though, it makes perfect sense.
We live in a business world that still values relationships and trust when selecting service providers. I applaud a New Girls’ network that builds on that theme.
I wonder, though, if the New Girls’ network is just getting started, or if my friends at this wonderful dinner are late to a party that may be ending soon. The disruptive storm cloud of technology may soon commoditize all but the most esoteric of legal needs. Relationship driven decisions are under pressure from procurement-style bidding processes. I invite you to come back to this space next month for an explanation. I will be reporting, from a career advice perspective, on a series of talks by Richard Susskind.
The program is called “Generals of the Revolution” presented by InsideCounsel, The General Counsel Forum and sponsor DataCert. Susskind wrote a predictive road map for legal services, provocatively titled, “ The End of Lawyers?” Whatever the future looks like, however, I am certain of one thing. A growing number of powerful and accomplished women general counsel will be leading the way.