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When it comes to gender diversity, law firms generally have been behind the curve. Although women have been graduating from law school in roughly equal numbers to men since the mid-1980s, women represent only 18% of partners at the nation’s largest firms. Attrition remains significantly higher for women than for men at all levels of firm practice, including partnership. Nearly all major firms have had diversity committees in place for well more than a decade and yet little has changed at the top of firms. “But diversity is not an intractable problem,” Anne Weisberg, senior adviser of the Women’s Initiative at Deloitte & Touche USA, said in an interview. Weisberg should know. Deloitte has made remarkable strides in gender diversity since it became the first company in corporate America to create a women’s initiative in 1993. Deloitte’s pyramid structure (with few partners at the top but a large number of employees below) makes its success in gender diversity particularly instructive to law firms. In 1992, Deloitte selected only three women as partners, principals and directors. Women were leaving the firm at significantly higher rates than their male peers. But, with the commitment of Deloitte’s management and the institution of a robust Women’s Initiative, Deloitte’s gender diversity has dramatically increased. By 1997, Deloitte led the then-Big Six accounting firms with the highest percentage of women in leadership. Last year, Deloitte selected 134 women as partners, principals and directors. The firm has also eliminated its gender gap in attrition. What can law firms learn from Deloitte’s example? Deloitte’s first step was to determine “what problem we were solving,” Weisberg explained. Under the leadership of J. Michael Cook, then-chairman and chief executive officer, Deloitte in 1992 formed a Task Force for the Retention and Advancement of Women to examine why women were not reaching partnership. Task force Based upon interviews and focus groups with current and former employees, the task force realized that a “multi-dimensional” approach was required. The resulting initiative targeted three main areas: creating a more inclusive environment for women; providing women greater access to “career-defining opportunities” through strengthened mentoring, networking and career-planning programs; and making flexible work arrangements available to employees at all levels. Now, 14 years later, Deloitte continues to assess, develop and expand its Women’s Initiative programs. Last year, the initiative sponsored more than 400 professional development, networking and mentoring activities nationally. “You don’t get from where we were to where we are today without significant, targeted focus on this,” Weisberg said. “From the very beginning, our Women’s Initiative has been a core business strategy” which firm leaders have “visibly supported and championed.” In addition, the firm has always devoted significant resources to the initiative, in terms of budget and dedicated and line personnel, Weisberg said. Today, the Women’s Initiative is an “essential part of Deloitte’s culture and something both men and women are very proud of.” Law firms follow Deloitte model Some law firms are following in Deloitte’s footsteps, dedicating significant resources and personnel to diversity and professional development efforts. Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham, now Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis, is one of them. In 2003, it became the first major law firm to appoint a chief diversity officer. After an extensive assessment period, during which its programs and practices were examined and attorney input solicited, the law firm reinvigorated its formal mentoring program, providing mentoring training and increased support and guidance to participating attorneys. Under the program, still in existence today, two professional-development and mentoring-program administrators, both former practicing attorneys, oversee mentoring relationships and attorney development training. The administrators work closely with mentor coordinators (a partner in each office), the associates’ committee and individual mentors to address individual performance issues and identify career-building opportunities for attorneys. K&L Gates views mentoring as critical to the retention and advancement of women and other diverse attorneys, said Richard Weinerman, professional-development and mentoring-program administrator. “We want to make sure all associates are getting the development and opportunities they need, and no one falls through the cracks.” Another important component of K&L Gates’ retention efforts is its balanced-hours policy, which includes part-time, telecommuting and other flexible arrangements. The firm’s director of professional and personal life integration and its director of legal recruitment and professional development monitor the amount and quality of work given to balanced-hour attorneys. Post-merger, K&L Gates has continued to stress the importance of professional development, mentoring and flexible schedules to the firm’s retention and diversity efforts, said Rick Jones, the new chief diversity officer. Firm leadership’s “strong commitment” to diversity distinguishes K&L Gates from many of its peers, Jones added. “We hold ourselves accountable” for attrition and promotion figures. In addition, the firm realizes that diversity requires ongoing attention. “We are continually evaluating and improving our programs, soliciting input from attorneys, and addressing individual needs,” he said. Foley & Lardner also has made great strides in its diversity efforts. Its diversity business department, led by a director of diversity who is a former practicing attorney, focuses on identifying and supporting career-building opportunities for the firm’s women and other diverse attorneys. The department connects attorneys with external opportunities to showcase their expertise and also facilitates internal relationship-building. In addition, the department counsels and mentors diverse attorneys, helping them create business plans and providing career-path coaching. “Our diversity efforts augment resources already provided at the practice group level and through mentors,” said Maureen McGinnity, Foley’s chief diversity partner. The firm’s affinity groups, including its women’s affinity group, which operates on both the national and local level, provide “an additional forum for networking and mentoring, a peer support system and a communication vehicle for issues to surface up to management or down to junior people,” McGinnity said. Flexible schedules Foley’s flexible-schedule policy is an important part of its retention efforts. The firm recently streamlined the process for attorneys seeking part-time hours to make the process “easier and more routine,” said McGinnity. Requesting attorneys only need to complete a short form, and requests are processed in less than two weeks. The revised policy emphasizes that part-time arrangements are a “shared responsibility,” she added. When supervisors approve part-time requests, they must affirm, in writing, that they will accommodate the part-time schedule and ensure the attorney is given career-building opportunities. By making shared responsibilities explicit, Foley’s goal is to show that “part-time is not a favors program,” said McGinnity. “As our CEO, long a champion of our policy, has articulated, flexible schedules are a critical tool in our retention strategy.” As these law firms illustrate, successful diversity initiatives must have strong and visible support from law firm leadership and be treated as core business strategies. Initiatives must integrate strengthened mentoring and career development opportunities, provide viable and nonstigmatized part-time options and foster a culture in which attorneys are supported and valued. Only then will more law firms get ahead of the curve. Melissa McClenaghan Martin, a former practicing attorney, is president of Career Women’s Initiative, which provides diversity consulting and professional development training to law firms. She can be reached at [email protected].

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