NEW YORK — A packed room with more than 70 attendees from across the law firm and in-house legal department spectrum gathered on November 17 to hear from an esteemed group of male panelists about their personal stories in being champions for women in the legal profession.
The event, Engaging Male Champions in the Legal Industry, was co-sponsored by Thomson Reuters and Morgan Lewis & Bockius. Jami Wintz McKeon, Firm Chair of Morgan Lewis, kicked off the night with opening remarks that spoke to the progress women have experienced in the industry and the structural obstacles that still hinder that progress.
Then, the male panelist initially honed in on their personal stories, the moments or people that drove them to develop a keen awareness that women in legal need the support and sponsorship of their male counterparts. For Joe Guastella, Managing Principal and U.S. Consulting Leader in Financial Services for Deloitte Consulting, his work experience in Japan provided a stark comparison to U.S. professional culture. For example, in Japan it was culturally frowned upon for women to give criticism to their male clients under the premise that it would be deemed disrespectful. Guastella realized that the Deloitte team could improve on that from an employee training perspective so that women could feel empowered to perform better.
More recently, he discussed Deloitte’s predictability and flexibility program that has driven change, with 71% of employees now saying they feel their careers can fit with their life, compared to just 20% saying that previously. This is in part due to the company’s shift from a focus on compensation and sales to other leadership factors like people impact, Guastella explained.
“I’m a better attorney when I work with women. They challenge me, call me on things, and make me consider other things.”
—Steve Browne, Morgan Lewis
Steve Browne, Managing Partner for Client Services at Morgan Lewis, said his experiences also have shown that more diversity and inclusion has improved his team and his own performance. “I’m a better attorney when I work with women,” Browne said. “They challenge me, call me on things, and make me consider other things.” Browne said he was motivated early in his career by a fundamental sense of fairness and underdog mentality.
Alan Bryan, Senior Associate General Counsel at Wal-Mart Stores, spoke about the force of nature that Wal-Mart tries to uphold on a daily basis, given the diversity of Wal-Mart customers. Clients are not perfect at demanding diversity but are getting better, Bryan said, adding that as a profession, there needs to be a re-examination of how attorneys are valued — without sole reliance on the billable hour.
As the panel moved to discuss the issue of business development, Gregory B. Jordan, General Counsel and Head of Regulatory & Government Affairs for PNC Financial Services Group, mentioned that men need to be purposeful in including women on client lunches or on practice development opportunities, as well as making sure they are put on cases. Recently, he said, PNC created a small group of 10 men to begin talking regularly about barriers and habits that exist as obstacles for women and what they can do to change them.
And all panelists noted that flexible working arrangements are critically important and that such arrangements must be demonstrated by the top leaders of the organization who must utilize the flexible model themselves. Mark Wasserman, Managing Partner for Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, also mentioned that there has to be a team approach, not just one individual who is using flexible work arrangements. “You have to view it all to see the good, the bad, and the ugly and you have to constantly educate your counterparts in this area,” Wasserman said.
When the panel sought questions from the audience, one attendee asked about engaging men not only at the senior level but at the onset of their careers. Morgan Lewis’s Browne agreed that law firms are not as engaged in the early years of both men and women, but need to be. All panelists agreed that in order to engage more women, law firms and in-house counsel need to compel people to take actions and to break out of their old habits of always relying on the same people.
The moderator, Michael Chamberlain, Vice President of Global Marketing for Catalyst, concluded the panelist portion of the event by commenting that it was “nice to see a mixed-gender audience at a women’s diversity event.”