Navigating Legal’s Male-Dominated Culture: A TWLL Roundtable Discussion

Topics: Collaboration, Corporate Legal, Diversity, Law Firms, Leadership, Practice Engineering, Talent Development, Thomson Reuters, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts


ATLANTA — Overcoming career roadblocks, charting a successful path in a male-centric profession, and the value of having a mentor were the hot topics of discussion at the recent Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) roundtable dinner.

The event, part of Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute’s TWLL initiative, was held at STK in Atlanta late last month. The dinner welcomed 13 women, from law firms and corporate legal departments, and encouraged them to share their successes in and barriers to advancement in the legal industry.

In introducing the drive behind the evening, host Joanna Trimble, vice president in Corporate at Thomson Reuters, noted that her company’s unique relationship with law firms and corporate legal departments affords it the opportunity to bring both groups together to focus on issues critical to women in the legal industry.

Mentors as Challengers

To get the conversation going, each participant shared a story of mentorship from her career. For these women, it was easy to identify those individuals who stood out as having helped them grow in unique ways in their climb up the ladder of success.

The notion of mentors as challengers who encouraged mentees to step outside of their comfort zones was echoed by several guests. This challenge, they noted, helped them overcome barriers to career progress. Indeed, one participant highlighted the importance of engaging mentors who can provide guidance on the business side of law.

Several Notable Barriers to Success

The conversation then moved on to the barriers that many participants faced to their greater career success. One of the first responses cited the exclusionary nature of camaraderie between men in the office. Other participants noted the difficulty of convincing men that certain kinds of camaraderie automatically exclude women and often men of diverse backgrounds as well.

Some of the participants also mentioned the regularity with which senior women place roadblocks in the way of junior women who are looking to advance their legal careers. Those women, having achieved a certain level of success, may feel a sense of protectionism for the positions they’ve secured, participants added.

Other topics that arose included unconscious bias, the differences between an in-house and a law firm’s working environment, and the difficulties around women being viewed as the “default parent.”

Connection and Community are Valuable

At the end of the evening, each participant observed that having the opportunity to meet other women in similar roles was an invaluable one. As they had expressed, women leaders in the legal industry can feel siloed and need spaces to connect with others in similar situations, share their concerns, and celebrate their successes.

On November 08, the TWLL program and Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton will be offering another opportunity to connect women in the legal industry through a fireside chat around advancing the pathways for diverse women in the law. This event is open to the public, but seating is limited. You can register for the event here.