It’s the Mentoring and the Environment, Stupid

This past Tuesday, The Legal held a roundtable on gender equity and retention issues. The impetus for it was really two-fold. First, in my meetings with management at a number of law firms around town, a frequent concern I heard voiced — primarily by men, mind you — was the inability of firms to recruit and retain women lawyers.

Second, one of our reporters, speaking with female attorneys, had heard that while some would like to think the "glass ceiling" no longer exists, it's still an issue. In addition, he'd heard of tension between older female lawyers and younger female attorneys over a variety of issues.

Given that, we thought it would be a good idea to try to get a room full of lawyers — female and male, partners and associates — and have them talk openly and honestly about gender problems at law firms, and the steps the firms could take to improve their recruitment and retention of women.

To be honest, I wasn't sure if we'd get anybody willing to do it. However, when we sent out an e-mail to our various contacts looking for volunteers, the response was overwhelming. We eventually whittled the list down to 10, which was still a big number for an hour-long roundtable.

One interesting bit:  While we never specified who we wanted, just the issues we wanted to discuss, every single person who volunteered (or who was volunteered by their firm) was a woman. There's nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to get some men in the room as well so they could give their perspectives, but also so they could hear first-hand the views of women. I wasn't looking for confrontation, but I wanted a dialogue. We evetually got two male partners to volunteer.

While we will be publishing excerpts of the roundtable in our upcoming "Women in the Profession" supplement, I can tell you that the most common things I heard were the importance of mentoring, creating an environment that shows it is inclusive of women, and creating work situations that really allow for work-life balance without penalty, as key things firms can do to help hire, retain and promote women.

A common complaint was that women who take part-time status often wind up working full-time, but are treated and paid less than full-time attorneys.

And there was a fascinating story as one participant related how the attorney sitting next to her — from a different firm — had been instrumental in getting her work years ago.

Make sure to check out the supplement in a few weeks when it comes out.

Hank Grezlak, Editor-in-Chief

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