May 14, 2020 Practice Points

The Attributes of Strong Female Leaders

As the global pandemic has highlighted the strengths of women leaders the world over, we can see the need for such leadership in the legal profession, too.

By Angela A. Turiano

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In a recent article entitled Why Have Women Leaders Excelled At Fighting the Coronavirus Crisis?, the author, Stephanie Denner, discusses the correlation between the countries with the greatest success in combatting the coronavirus and the gender of their leaders—you guessed it, all female. These leaders include

  • Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand;
  • Angela Merkel, President of Germany;
  • Tsai Ing-wen, President of Taiwan; and
  • Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Denmark.

In providing examples of specific actions taken by each, Denner suggests that it are these female leaders who have “demonstrated to be the most decisive—and calm . . . .” Rather than exhibit the more typical “all-knowing” and “invulnerable” style of leadership, these ladies took a hybrid approach that focused both on their individual leadership strength and their understanding that they, as an individual leader, do not have all of the answers. They all understood that a successful defense against a “crisis of this magnitude” involved not only consulting with a team of experts, including public health experts and scientists, but also taking decisive action when necessary. While this may seem obvious in theory, as the author points out, it is hard to achieve in practice. Denner further highlights that each leader was able to set aside their egos and act not only for “their own people and country but for society as a whole” and also have the fortitude to act based upon the evidence, even if there was no way to be sure it was the right course of action. 

Certainly, these attributes are not unique to female leaders. However, it is no coincidence, in my opinion, that it is the female leaders of the world that appear to be best handling this crisis.

Which brings me to female leadership generally and, of course, in the legal profession specifically. If women make such great leaders, then why are there not more women leaders in the law? Consider the 2019 statistics from the American Bar Association published in A Current Glance at Women in the Law 2019.

The percentage of women who are:

  • General counsel in Fortune 500 Companies—30 percent
  • Equity partners in private practice—19 percent
  • Firm-wide managing partners—22 percent
  • Office-level managing partners—20 percent

These sub-par statistics, hovering around 23 percent, are even more disappointing when you consider that women comprised 47 percent of law school graduates 10 years prior in 2009 and 51 percent almost 15 years prior in 2005. And to add insult to injury, female lawyers’ salaries are still 80 percent of their male counterparts, with male equity partners making on average 27 percent more than female equity partners.

Perhaps highlighting women’s leadership prowess on the global front will help our cause. Maybe this pandemic has highlighted not only that there is room for this type of leadership, but that this is the type of leadership we need more than ever in today’s world. With 50 percent of law school graduates in 2019 consisting of women, perhaps the 23 percent of us currently in positions of “power” need to impress upon these new graduates the importance of adopting the fine leadership skills demonstrated by the female global leaders who have excelled in the face of the current pandemic. Then maybe 15 years from now, or even less, the ABA statistics regarding women in the law will be closer to the 50/50 ratio of the 2019 graduates. And maybe, just maybe, the president of the United States will join the ranks as one of these great female leaders. Only time will tell.

Angela A. Turiano is a principal at Bressler, Amery & Ross PC in New York, New York.

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