Erin E. Harrison, InsideCounsel Editor-in-Chief
Erin E. Harrison, InsideCounsel Editor-in-Chief

In my line of work, I have the opportunity to get to know a lot of very smart people, both women and men. Many of them are gifted with multiple intelligences, ranging from book-smarts to emotional intelligence. In the legal industry, degrees, titles and other such accomplishments are not the only credentials that lead to professional success, however you define it. There are many attorneys who demonstrate the connection between intelligence and success. But fewer can combine the precepts of emotional and critical intelligence to go a step beyond where they need to. Two women who embody this ideal are Megan Belcher and Angela Spivey.

Belcher, vice president and chief employment counsel for ConAgra Foods, took inspiration from last fall’s Women, Influence & Power in Law (WIPL) conference. She took that extra step to keep the momentum of the event going back home in Omaha, Neb. There, Belcher launched a group called “Drinks Among Friends” (DAF), a networking coalition of women aimed at helping other women advance in their careers by “sharing the power” through female in-house counsel giving work to female outside counsel.

For effectual progress to take place, both women and men need to be involved in figuring how to create a workforce with gender balance, both Belcher and Spivey contend.

“Today, there are a lot more opportunities for women to work and be moms than there used to be, and you have more modern ideals within leadership. You have women who were raising girls in the 1980s, so you have layer upon layer of modernization around,” Belcher explains.

Spivey, a partner with McGuireWoods and co-host of the DAF event, says that until recently, the demands placed on most working mothers made it difficult to attain a work/life balance that was conducive to excelling in the legal industry.

“With the more recent shift in acceptance toward men who either stay at home or attribute greater time toward household and parental responsibility, more women have the luxury of devoting the necessary time, energy and focus to advancing their careers,” she says. “Firms and in-house departments, recognizing the valuable contribution and need to foster female associates, are thinking outside the box in an effort to ensure promotion and advancement of talented, deserving women.”

There are women (and men) who may have opportunities to quickly ascend to leadership positions and promotions. And then there are those who need to find or make their own opportunities. While more women hold general counsel positions in the Fortune 500 than ever before (106 and counting), the quest to equal the playing field continues.