Gaveling the Glass Ceiling: Diversity & Inclusion Took Center Stage During Recent Meetings

Topics: American Bar Association, Corporate Legal, Diversity, Government, Law Firms, Talent Development, Thomson Reuters, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

gaveling

As the August issue of “Gaveling the Glass Ceiling” goes to press, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the recent panel discussions, leadership awards and special events around the topics of diversity and inclusion that were part of the American Bar Association (ABA) and the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations (NCWBA) respective annual meetings.

Thomson Reuters’ Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law initiative has supported both organizations as part of our shared commitment to foster greater diversity and inclusion within the legal profession and to encourage structural changes that can measurably improve representation of women in legal leadership.

One event was especially meaningful to me. Thomson Reuters served as host for the NCWBA’s day-long summit and special kick-off event to screen the fantastic new documentary, “Balancing the Scales”.  The film was followed a Q&A panel — which I had the great pleasure to moderate — with filmmaker Sharon Rowen and Aracely Muñoz, Special Counsel at Center for Reproductive Rights.

The hour-long film elicited expressions of laughter, cheers, and sighs of disbelief, given the varied and fascinating narratives shared by a diverse representation of women lawyers and judges across five generations, all sharing the challenges they have faced historically and still face today. The interviews, conducted over two decades, included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, civil rights attorney Gloria Allred, and Roe v Wade attorney Margie Pitts Hames.

Filmmaker Sharon Rowen (photo by Stan Kaady)

To begin the panel, I asked Rowen, as the filmmaker who has since participated in about 30 public screenings, about the primary theme to have emerged in audience talk-backs.

She replied that the greatest impediments faced by women in law are often influenced by their respective generation; while younger women cite issues with work/life balance, more experienced practitioners point to a lack of equal pay.

Muñoz highlighted several trends which she views as impeding young female lawyers in their leadership goals, including: i) much greater student debt coupled with unequal pay; ii) ubiquitous technology that demands round-the-clock “electronic leashes”; and iii) a longer trajectory to becoming partner as both genders prolong their tenures. “It’s hard for us to see how we make our way forward,” she said.

I next asked the panel if law firms invest enough time in mentoring and sponsorship activities given how important those efforts are toward shaping early careers. Muñoz quickly concurred, “Women are over-mentored, under-sponsored and rarely coached.” She stressed the importance of having a “playbook” to map out one’s future path, which she said, is often more accessible to male lawyers. (In a new blog post, we talked about the issues of mentoring and coaching that were brought up at a recent workshop, presented by the NCWBA.)

Rowen underscored the importance — gleaned both from her own conversations and external research — that women have the opportunity to act authentically in the work environment. Addressing the attrition rate and “leaky pipelines”, she said, “the biggest problem is that women feel like they cannot be their authentic selves… that they have to fit into a mold or a pattern, so when you’re talking about mentoring, you have to have the right mentors.”

And at the ABA’s annual meeting, we were incredibly honored Judge Lorna G. Schofield of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York receive the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section (TIPS) annual Liberty Achievement Award. The award recognizes lawyers and judges who take a leadership role actively promoting diversity in the legal profession.

Sharon Sayles Belton, vice president of Government Affairs & Community Relations for Thomson Reuters, presented the award, saying: “Judge Schofield’s path to the bench has shown desire to succeed, the confidence to seize opportunity and, the fortitude to be ‘first’”.  Sharon praised Judge Schofield’s many accomplishments, her commitment to mentor young people just entering the law, and how — from her vaulted position on the bench — she shines a light on the importance of diversity.

In closing, I was proud to see Thomson Reuters holding a palpable presence among these communities of legal professionals who converged upon New York City in recent weeks. We are honored to be able to support their worthy diversity and inclusion initiatives and the individuals who work tirelessly to develop and sustain them year after year!