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Women's Initiatives Need Focus and Money, Says NAWL Report

The Careerist

November 15, 2012

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by Diane Jeantet

Virtually all big firms have women affinity groups, but how effective are they in helping women catch up with their male counterparts in pay and leadership positions?

Until they are better funded and more strategic in their goals, they won’t gain much ground, says a report released Thursday by the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) Foundation.

The report, which the foundation describes as the first of its kind, is based on a survey focused on the finances, activities, and oversight of women’s affinity groups within The Am Law 200. More than half of those firms took part in the survey, according to NAWL.

Whatever other advances women may have made at large law firms in recent years, the NAWL report notes that one data point remains largely unchanged since the group began conducting annual surveys of the industry in 2006: While nearly one in every two Am Law 200 associates are women, only one in seven equity partners are.

Pat Gillette, a cochair of NAWL’s national survey committee, says women need to reorder their priorities if they’re going to improve that ratio. 

“Networking is important, but I think we got sidetracked into focusing only on those issues,” says Gillette, a Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner who cochairs the firm's women’s affinity group. Gillette views pay equity within the partnership ranks as an issue that demands more attention: “We need to be focused on getting women in positions of leadership and monitoring that type of advancement.”

Along those lines, the NAWL report encourages women to be both more vocal and better organized in pressing their concerns. Securing more funding for the efforts is another key: The report notes that though 97 percent of Am Law 200 firms have a women’s affinity group, nearly all of them lack the money they need to make a real impact.

Gillette confirms that take: “It’s a ‘check the box’ thing,” says Gillette. “They say, ‘We need a women’s initiative, and we need to give them a little bit of money.’ ”

The report considers, among other things, how well women are represented on executive and compensation committees, how many are viewed within their firms as rainmakers, and how many serve as managing partner. It represents NAWL’s latest effort to highlight what it sees as a lack of gender equity within law firms

The report found, for instance, that almost half of all large firms report having no women among their top 10 business generators. Another third of responding firms reported having only a single highly successful woman within the top 10 rainmakers.

Despite these pressing issues, NAWL found that "fewer than half of all women’s initiatives
are evaluated annually by management. Similarly, fewer than half of all women’s initiatives
submit written evaluations."

There are manifold problems with the way women's initiatives are currently run.  NAWL suggests that participating in the survey might be a good way for firms to make them more substantive.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at [email protected] Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist.

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The statistics on the percentage of associates vs. equity partners who are women present evidence of unequal treatment of women. The key questions, however, are: how extensive is unequal treatment, what are its causes and how best can it be remedied? Anecdotal evidence suggests that a much higher percentage of women than men voluntarily opt out of the partnership track. This may be due to long hours, travel demands, perceived favoritism by firm leaders toward male "proteges," perception (and reality?) of more regular hours at smaller firms or in-house and many other factors, but are there studies that quantify the causes and their relative importance? Until we know and properly interpret the data, it is difficult to understand how best to remedy the unequal treatment. One point seems self-evident: women in private practice should be trained regularly in proven effective strategies and techniques for marketing and business development. Given that power in law firms is based on the amount of business one controls, helping women acquire better rainmaking skills seems to be an obvious priority in "women's programs."

Until they are better funded and more strategic in their goals, they won’t gain much ground..

Duh?! Whoever can initiate anything with limited funds? Women are strategic, they are just discriminated. Just saying..

Until lawfirms decide to stragecially assess women's initiatives or diversity initiatives assigning clear goals, tasks, and objectives with clear metrics of success (or failure), these initiatives will continue to only be a veneer without any substance. Unfortunately, the concept of metrics in the vast majority of law firms is one that is lost on leadership. Most law firms have only only a handful of metrics: billable hours, billing rates, and realization or the glorious status in the AM LAW 100 for PPP. Sadly, these metrics are metrics for an accountant, not client satisfication. If firms can't see the benefit of metrics and mission / vision for their overall firm business, then these programs will also not receive the benefit of such metrics.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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