Women to Women: Advice on Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling
Throughout the legal profession, the statistics from recent studies are grim: Only 16 percent of law firm equity partners are women. Only 15 percent of general counsels of Fortune 500 companies are women. And only 19 percent of law school deans are women.
In response to the gross underrepresentation of women, the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession recently presented the Women in Law Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, connecting women lawyers and judges from around the country with some of the most influential female role models in the legal profession.
During her opening remarks, Commission Chair Roberta D. Liebenberg highlighted what women lawyers are fighting against with a quotation from legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow, whose words back then in 1895 still resonate today. He openly expressed his dim view of women lawyers in a speech to a group of them, saying, “You can never be shining lights at the bar. I doubt you will ever make a living.”
Proving the absurdity of Darrow’s words are the achievements of the academy attendees, a record number of more than 500 women lawyers and judges, who among them represented the top echelons of corporate America, government and the legal community.
Through mentoring with these luminaries during the two-day event, attendees honed their leadership and business development skills in preparation for replicating the success of their new found role models.
Highlights included the opening session, “Attributes of a Leader,” where Mary Cranston, senior partner, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP, stressed the importance of creating a personal strategy for reaching the top. “Vision is what actually drove my career,” she explained. “I set a goal to be the top rainmaker in the firm when I wasn’t even a mist-maker.”
Other panelists included ABA President Carolyn Lamm; Julie Howard, president and COO, Navigant Consulting; and Michele Coleman Mayes, senior vice president and general counsel, Allstate Insurance Company. Laurel Bellows, immediate past chair of the ABA House of Delegates, moderated the discussion.
Other advice from the conference emphasized perseverance and hard work. “Perform, perform, perform,” advised keynote speaker, Lynn Laverty Elsenhans, chairman and chief executive officer, Sunoco, Inc. “Deliver on your commitments, exceed expectations, be results-oriented versus effort-oriented and prove the stereotypes wrong.”
The attendees—from law students to legal veterans—said they were inspired by the energy and enthusiasm the sessions generated.
From advice on creating career strategies, to tips on conquering fears and building confidence, attendees found the exchange of ideas and sharing of advice to be the most important “take-aways” from the academy.
Sending the message that achieving true diversity cannot happen without women, Mary E. Snapp, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of Microsoft Corporation and chair-elect of the ABA Minority Corporate Counsel Association, left attendees with a call to action: “You are all leaders and [diversity] is just about the most important issue on which this profession can lead, so I urge you to think about… how you can set clear and measureable goals. If we can come together as a profession…we will have a profession that is as diverse as the people it serves.”
“Advice from the Bench,” a CLE teleconference, features a panel of prominent state and federal court judges discussing the different communication styles of women and men, including a discussion of how women lawyers are perceived in the judicial system.