ORLANDO, Fla. — The male perspective on gender equality in the law was the hot topic of discussion at a recent roundtable luncheon, as part of Thomson Reuters’ Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) initiative.
At the event, six women and five men from law firms and corporate legal departments discussed the challenges women in the law face, including the lack of flexibility with schedules, the stigma for women (and men) who take advantage of flexible program opportunities, the difficulties in creating a book of business to support being promoted to the equity partner level, and, of course, the presence of unconscious bias that can throw up roadblocks to advancement for women and minority lawyers.
Suggested recommendations for confronting those challenges included:
- Offering more flexible schedules;
- Being open and honest with clients to continue building trust and developing the relationship even when on leave;
- Being deliberate about formal and informal mentoring to help with advancement and building a book of business;
- Creating a program for client development and training to help get women to the equity partnership level (e.g., Ford Harrison’s LEAP program); and
- Participating in the Mansfield Rule certification program — a diversity initiative where firms and legal departments agree to actively consider diverse candidates for at least 30% of open leadership roles.
The male perspective covered a wide range of views. At the luncheon discussion, some men took a cautious approach, highlighting their hesitation in mentoring or meeting with women alone as a result of the #MeToo movement. Other men expressed a desire to help but admitted to not knowing what to say or where to start. Finally, other men who were more comfortable in expressing best practices or recommended changes to help women advance in the law spoke up.
The group recognized that mentoring is key for women’s advancement but stressed that firms and legal departments themselves need to take the next step in identifying talented women, driving business to them in order to give them the opportunity to grow. If firms and corporate legal departments can do that, they can help increase the number of women in leadership roles and their bottom line. Organizations “in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians,” according to McKinsey’s report on Why Diversity Matters.
When asked what advice the men could give women who want to engage their male colleagues in the discussion, the men commented that women should understand that not all men understand the struggles that women face and what their goals are.
Indeed, several attending men said that participating in the discussion was enlightening because some admitted they avoided the conversation in fear of saying the wrong thing or unintentionally coming across as offensive.
One male attendee said that he understands now that it’s about starting the dialogue; and the group agreed that the process will take time, and they were hopeful for eventually achieving equality.