NEW YORK — In its inaugural event of 2017, the Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) initiative offered its first Roundtable Dinner at Oceana Restaurant on March 29.
The Roundtable Dinner program, started last year, offers several events around the country which serve as forums for discussion on women’s issues and the legal industry. In keeping with tradition, attendees are challenged to, at the conclusion of the dinner, offer what ideas they would bring back to their firms to help advance the cause of women.
The recent event was hosted by Thomson Reuters’ Andrea Holm, Strategic Account Executive, and Suzanne Parisi, Senior Client Manager; and brought together 11 women legal professionals to discuss the topic of second-generation bias.
Holm began by saying the discussion can help “address the elephant in the room” — the issue of why women enter law firms in large numbers but don’t seem to reach higher positions. Attendees expressed their shared concern about the great ratios of mid-career women leaving firms. One participant noted that those who do in fact remain at her firm seem to lack opportunities to come together to discuss important issues and ways in which to mitigate the unique challenges women at the firm may face. Another attendee recounted that she had been one of nine women in her all-female associate class when hired at her firm; but now, several years later, she is the only female from that class that remains at the firm as a partner.
Holm went on to provide examples of how second-generation bias differs from first-generation bias, which is more overt in nature. Second-generation bias is more structural in nature, and more indoctrinated into the policies and processes of the workplace, leaving women to operate within an infrastructure designed by men and often best suited for male success.
“If you aren’t tooting your own horn, you’d better get on it, because everyone else is,” on participant said. “If you feel uncomfortable doing so, you have to get over that — you need to promote yourself.”
Holm then asked the participants to discuss ways in which they may have experienced such bias. One attendee recounted how a committee she served on had predominately male members, and that when women members stated their opinion about a committee issue, the men would ignore their statements. Then, the men would often repeat those same thoughts that the women had voiced, without giving credit.
Another attendee noted how women in her group found strength in numbers. The solution, she explained, was adopted from women in the Obama administration, who recognized that they had to support each other in order to be heard and adapted a way of combat that kind of bias in their meetings. “You bounce that [idea] back, and bring it back to the original woman who said it,” the attendee explained, noting this practice is better known now as “amplification.”
After considering the instances of second-generation bias that they had been privy to, many of the women agreed that things were getting better, though the rate of change was extremely slow. One participant noted that “change does not happen by itself. Showing up isn’t enough — change needs to be systemic.”
Holm asked, besides caring for children, what other things might drive young women lawyers out of law firms. One attendee suggested that there exists a general feeling of inequity. “Why put that much time into something if you aren’t going to be valued much?” she asked. Also, many participants agreed that women supporting women was crucial, with one adding, that because there are more women general counsels now that they could hire other women lawyer to provide those opportunities for further business development.
When it came to self-evaluations, one attendee declared that women need to do more to speak up for their own performance. “If you aren’t tooting your own horn, you’d better get on it, because everyone else is,” she said. “If you feel uncomfortable doing so, you have to get over that — you need to promote yourself.”
The evening ended with the co-hosts asking each participant to discuss what actions they would take to help advance women’s opportunities at their firms. Three participants who attended from the same firm said that they would do more to connect women at their firm through similar women-focused events. Others committed to looking at changing the process for self-evaluations at their firms, expanding existing women’s initiatives, providing mentorship to younger associates, helping women with their business development skills and implementing a system of amplification to support other women’s ideas.