Gaveling the Glass Ceiling: Advancing Collaboration to Bolster Diversity & Inclusion at the “Strength in Numbers” Event

Topics: Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Diversity, Law Firms, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

civil justice

As this issue of Gaveling the Glass Ceiling is going to press, I’m still abuzz over the recent opening event in Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute’s diversity and inclusion series, Strength in Numbers, held in New York City earlier this month.

The two-day event, entitled, Strength in Numbers: Advancing Collaborative Diversity in the Workforce, examined some key issues around diversity and inclusion (D&I) and explored solutions for strengthening these initiatives in business and in larger society. I was especially intrigued by this year’s focus on the value and importance of taking a truly collaborative approach to diverse representation. (You can read some of the coverage of the event featured on the Legal Executive Institute blog’s Spotlight page, Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL).)

In general, I was encouraged to hear about the tremendous work that is underway — within law firms, corporations, and non-profit organizations — to ensure equality and full inclusion for all individuals. I was also proud that many of the innovative and progressive ideas discussed were ones which I believe we’re embracing within Thomson Reuters, as well as socializing with our business partners and clients in external initiatives.

Although there were many standout sessions and key takeaway moments, the closing discussion, moderated by Sheila Murphy, senior vice president & associate general counsel at MetLife (who also just joined the Advisory Board of TWLL) is worthy of mention.

Murphy acknowledged that a lot of the day’s conversations were not new, but the legal industry has not been able to move the dial as much as it would like to. She cited a December 2017 report from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) that found only marginal gains for diverse individuals in the legal profession.

Sheila Murphy

Many of the panelists agreed. “If you want to see a different result, you have to have a different input,” said one panelist, referring to the traditional structures at law firms that were designed by and for those who have long held power. “There’s a good number of people coming into law firms who are women and minorities, but when you look at the top, the numbers move very, very marginally because we haven’t changed things.”

(For more about the importance of D&I initiatives at law firms, check out TWLL’s recent interview on the subject with Sonia Menon, chief operating officerat Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg.)

Another panelist observed there is evidence that minority and women lawyers within corporate legal departments are seeing more progress on D&I initiatives than their law firm counterparts. This is because corporations are “very, very detailed” around process, project management, strategy, and organizational development, and they invest time in teaching their management about inclusive leadership and talent development, the panelist suggested.

Indeed, diversity initiatives can put undue pressure on women and minorities for success, one panelist noted, when instead, the imperative for change should reside with the firm or corporate leadership.

I was extremely proud that Thomson Reuters helped further this vital discussion around key concepts of diversity, inclusion, and leadership in the legal industry.

#TRChangeMakers focuses on culture

I also want to mention another important event that occurred this month, the #TRChangeMakers summit, held in Hong Kong as part of International Women’s Day 2018. The event focused on how culture plays an important role in crafting the language needed to promote gender equality and translate it into action.

Respondents polled at the event strongly agreed that all firms should increase transparency around compensation, and cited the role played by sponsors and mentors as the biggest facilitator of female talent. However, the polling also showed that there remains a long way to go. Although 43% thought that their firms would achieve a balanced female representation in five-to-ten years, 26% said their firms would never achieve this goal.

Susan Taylor Martin, president of Thomson Reuters Legal, said poll findings like these reveal the need for global businesses to make long-term, measurable commitments to gender balance if those initiatives are to be successful in the future.

Looking ahead

LEI will host a follow-up Strength in Numbers event in Atlanta this May, which will focus on African-American talent. Also in early May, I look forward to attending the second Women’s Transformative Leadership Forum in Toronto. In the meantime, TWLL launches  the second year of its “Rising Stars” cohort program, providing 10 high-potential female law firm partners with access to general counsel and other mentorship opportunities over the course of several events in 2018.

We have much more ground to cover along the D&I journey — and I am excited that these events will help with that. I can’t wait to see what progress the future holds when we all work together!