Did your firm missed the boat on getting one of those “best firm” list for women, like the one just released by Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF)? As I reported, this year, 45 firms got WILEF’s gold stamp of approval for success with women.
If nothing else, it’s fabulous P.R. As you might imagine, firms on that coveted list are gleeful. They’re zapping out press releases to clients and talking it up with potential recruits as if they had won the cool kid of the class award.
So what can your firm do to get on that list?
Well, it certainly helps if your firm already has an established track record with women in leadership positions. That seems to be the case at Denver-based Holland & Hart, a firm with 470 lawyers, which fulfilled all six of WILEF’s criteria (for the second time in a row)—and then some. Its current chair is a woman, Elizabeth Sharrer. Even more amazing, the firm has already had four women (including Sharrer) serve as managing partner or chair in the last 20 years. And get this—three of the five members on the management committee, which also encompasses compensation, are women.
Did Holland & Hart make a deliberate effort to put women in leadership roles? No, says chair Sharrer: “There was no specific goal for x-percentage of women.” Instead, she says, “I attribute it to the culture.” Part of that culture, she adds, is that flex-time and part-time is accepted at the firm, without stigma or penalty: “We’ve had it for 25 years, and both men and women use it. I was part-time for a really long time, and you can be eligible for partnership even part-time.”
Women rule at Holland & Hart, but that’s clearly an anomaly. Much more typical in the world of big firms is Sidley & Austin, where (white) men have the power. (There is only one woman on the eight-member management committee.)
Last year, Sidley missed the mark at making the WILEF list, though it bounced back this year.
Sidley’s chair Carter Phillips says that the firm a “very conscious effort” to get back on the WILEF wagon. “We qualified by increasing the percentage of women on the firm’s executive committee,” which, he adds, also sets partner compensation. “It was a priority because the firm was not happy with losing its certification a year ago and we know that WILEF certification is an important credential both for recruiting and retaining women lawyers.”
So what does that say about firms with persistently poor track records on women? Are they simply not making women’s elevation a priority? Phillips thinks so: “The [WILEF] requirements are stiff and unbending, but they focus attention. Making room for women in leadership has to be a priority. If it is, then firms will meet the criteria.”
The way I hear it is this: If your firm isn’t doing so hot on the women front, put it on the top of the to-do list—and do it.
Are you big guys listening?
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