Over the last 12 years the National Association of Women Lawyers ("NAWL") has collected data "demonstrating a consistent relatively undisturbed pattern showing the absence of women in the upper echelon of law firm and legal professional leadership."1 The 2018 survey on the "Retention and Promotion of Law Firms" continued to show that while the number of female equity partners has increased 5 percent, from 15 percent in 2006 to 20 percent in 2018, the representation of women "declines significantly" as the women gain seniority. The survey confirms that women still have a mountain to climb when it comes to gender equality in law firms, especially when it comes to making equity partners.
While making partner at a law firm is a difficult challenge for any associate, the 2018 survey confirms what many of us know is a reality: it's harder for women associates to get there. The question thus remains how each law firm can help the women climb that mountain and become equity partners. There are many options to consider, but what is critical is that all equity partners get behind their firm's initiatives and to ensure the goal of making more women partners is met.
The 2018 NAWL survey discusses several initiatives for law firms to consider, which "focus on trainings, diversity and inclusion efforts, and implementing policies that help support women and families." 2 One such initiative is diversity training and bias reduction efforts, which drive productivity and results, thus making diversity a smart business decision for law firms. In January 2019, Hilarie Bass, immediate Past-President of the American Bar Association (ABA) launched the Bass Institute for Diversity & Inclusion. According to Bass, her inspiration for creating the Institute was that there "simply aren't enough women at the table." She added that not "having women in senior leadership positions is bad for women, of course, but, more importantly, it's bad for business. Companies invest a fortune in recruiting the smartest, most competent women, but then they fail to retain them and to promote them into positions of senior leadership."3
Despite the realization that the legal profession must step up diversity and inclusion efforts, law firms are continuing to struggle with their diversity initiatives. Some firms have hired chief diversity officers or directors of strategic diversity initiatives. Kori Carew, formerly with Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP, held the position of Director of Strategic Diversity Initiatives at the firm for 11 years. Her objective in that role was to work closely with various firm committees and task forces, human resources and other departments to drive the recruitment, hiring, development, engagement, and advancement of attorneys from underrepresented groups. Carew said the focus isn't just about retaining women or other diverse employees:
"When we come to work, what we want is to be leveraged. We want to be part of the team . . . . [When we ask], 'How do we engage and advance people?' We have a different narrative. Now we're not just looking at numbers. Now we're saying, 'What do you need to succeed? How can we help you succeed?' We start to have a conversation about intentionally investing in and developing people."
Is your firm asking these questions? Is your firm creating spaces where your women attorneys can belong in their own authenticity and diversity? If not, the time to do so is now.
1. 2018 NAWL Survey Report, page 1.
2. 2018 NAWL Survey Report, page 5.
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