NEW YORK — The key influence of in-house counsel to champion diversity within law firms was among the topics discussed at the Thomson Reuters Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) inaugural Roundtable Dinner of 2018.
The evening kicked off the third year of the TWLL-sponsored Roundtable Dinner program which connects female leaders in law firms and corporate legal departments in cities around the country to discuss and promote women’s advancement in the law. In New York, eight talented women gathered to discuss the current state of women in the law.
Buy-Side Influence on Women’s Advancement
The conversation began with how clients can demonstrate support for the attorneys who have earned their respect. One attendee encouraged the clients at the table to “make sure that people know that you like them, so that they’re on your next case.” In fact, she partly credited her own ascent to large clients who had requested her to be on multiple cases. Furthermore, clients also have a responsibility to make clear who their relationships are with, to ensure that credit is properly attributed.
All agreed that this buy-side influence can crucially help ensure that matter teams are truly diverse. As one attendee observed, clients cannot put their full faith in diversity claims they see within requests for proposals (RFPs); rather, clients are advised to pay close attention “when it comes to the team you’re actually going to be getting” and speak up if there’s a lack of diverse representation.
Impact of #MeToo
Another popular topic that emerged was the impact of the #MeToo movement on law firm culture. On the positive side, one attendee said that it’s “made people much more cognizant of gender issues, which is to the benefit of all women in our firm”, and has led to more thoughtful consideration of how best to promote women and verify that everyone is receiving equal opportunities. On the flip side, several attendees cautioned that a sort of backlash has taken hold wherein men are less inclined to connect with women on an informal basis. “If you behave in a proper fashion with everyone, it shouldn’t be a problem, but if you’re not going to have those conversations with women, you’re limiting their potential,” one attendee said.
Another participant suggested that women lawyers with male bosses shouldn’t hesitate to directly request such informal meetings, whether over lunch or an after-work beer, because often it’s those “soft conversations” that reveal important insights.
Gender Differences in Performance Feedback
The participants also shared various “aha” moments they experienced over the years about how men and women behave — and are treated — differently within the workplace. One participant mentioned what she had learned about the differences in word choices that are used in female vs. male performance evaluations: power verbs and adjectives such as “go-getter” and “smart” were more often applied to men, whereas women received more genteel terms such as “organized”, “pleasure to work with” and “easy to get along with”.
In turn, another attendee mentioned separate findings that show that women are likewise more restrained than men in their own self-evaluations. There was consensus that this difference in approach is not without merit simply because often women are judged more harshly, by both genders, if they’re perceived as overly confident.
In the end, many Roundtable attendees agreed that a female leader is likely to achieve success by finding her own unique balance of self-determined grit and collaboration. To conclude, one woman astutely asserted, “If you’re not in it to play the game, you can’t possibly win.”