August 13, 2013 Practice Points

Accountability, Inclusion, and Advocacy

By Stefanie Wayco

Avivah Wittenberg’s article “Your Company Doesn’t Need a Women’s Network” illustrates how women’s networks and other “women-dominated efforts” fall frustratingly short of effecting real change in gender balances in senior positions. Networking, women’s initiatives, and other efforts are put into place, but those efforts are merely “nice places to hang out”—and the “noose for the gender-balance effort to hang itself on.”

Three solutions offered are to use existing women’s networks to lobby for change by having companies’ top executives sign a petition similar to other business initiatives that require accountability; to redefine women’s networks to include both men and women; and to appoint male leaders who will help forge the path.

These three solutions offer a first step toward substantive change to the path to the top.

Lobby for Change

Lobby for change by having a company’s top executives sign a petition that requires accountability of those at the top. In the legal world, more and more companies are reviewing diversity, quantity, and quality when selecting law firms to serve as outside counsel—in particular, for coveted positions on preferred provider networks that guarantee volume work from large clients. Accountability at the top for contributing to the gender balance equation does not just benefit women, it is also beneficial for the firm itself because it ultimately impacts the bottom line. Eventually, those firms that fail to encourage, support, and groom women for senior positions will be left behind. A law firm’s executive committee has no reason not to jump on the bandwagon and sign the accountability petition.

Redefining Networks

The need to redefine women’s networks to include both men and women should be apparent. While women’s events offer a forum to address issues related to women in the workplace, in the real world women do not work in women-only environments. We work with men. It defies reason to have women purposely segregate themselves in women’s initiatives from those already at the top, the majority of whom are men, in their quest to reach new heights and numbers in positions of leadership and power in the corporate and legal world. Women’s infiltration of the top should not exclude men; we should be networking with and including men.

Appoint Male Leaders

Nominate male leaders to help forge the path. Women’s networking events are beneficial, but they have their limits. Men in leadership positions within corporations and law firm management have great ability to contribute to women’s successful advancement and take the gender balance seriously. Involving men in women’s road to the top is not a sign of weakness; rather, it is a sign of power.

Women have done a fantastic job of creating women’s initiatives, attending networking events, and supporting one another’s promotions up the rungs of the corporate and law firm ladders. To continue this progress we should strive to achieve greater executive level accountability and commitment to gender balance at the top, include men in women’s networking, and solicit male leaders to go to bat for us in our path to the top and at the top.

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, accountability, inclusion, advocacy


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