February 16, 2020

Here’s how to engage men as partners in women’s success

Last October, Rodolfo A. Ruiz II, U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Florida, and his law clerk, Fabiana Cohen, wrote a commentary for the National Law Journal about how they are redefining work for lawyer moms.

Cohen, who has three daughters under age 5, had lamented that “by placing too much emphasis on requirements that young lawyers be in the office at all hours of the day, supervisors inadvertently discourage qualified primary caregivers from pursuing valuable opportunities like clerkships.”

“It is incumbent upon employers to stop promoting the idea that the best lawyers are those who are in the office around the clock,” they wrote.

“From the start, Fabiana was unafraid to share that she hoped to make it to dinner every night with her family and, frankly, I was equally motivated to get home to see my young children before their bedtime,” Ruiz added.

“Until we discard the false dichotomy between being an effective and diligent lawyer and an available parent, highly qualified candidates will continue to be marginalized in our legal profession,” they concluded.

Ruiz had the opportunity to expand on this as a panelist on “Men in the Mix: How to Engage Men on Issues Related to Gender in the Profession” at the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting in Austin, Texas.

“We are boxing out young parents, young women who want to try to strike this balance,” he said.

Ruiz’s support and approach to work is key, said Anne Collier, CEO and certified professional coach at Arudia in Washington, D.C. “You have to make it that family obligations are normal regardless of your gender.”

The program, sponsored by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, and part of the Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice Summit, shared the preliminary results of focus groups convened in New York, Dallas and San Francisco that were designed to delve into the psychology behind engaging male colleagues as partners for women’s success.

Collier presented the research, the results of which included:

Former ABA president Paulette Brown, senior partner and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Locke Lord, LLP, said she has heard of women bringing the ABA/ALM report “Walking Out the Door” (about senior women lawyers leaving private practice in the prime of their careers) to their firm leadership’s attention.

Clients increasingly say they want diversity among the lawyers they hire, and “now you see the consequences for not being diverse,” she said.

Still, Brown said, “Some men are truly interested” in being allies, and are “taking the lead, which I am really happy about.”

“Women bring a relatedness and a sensitivity to the workplace that the workplace doesn’t really know how to handle,” said panelist Evan Anderson, CEO of PLACED Legal Career Strategies in Washington, D.C. He said women are associated with “soft skills” and terms like “inclusion,” “support,” “connection” and “fairness.”

“If firms want to be successful and retain them, they need to be more like women,” Anderson said.

Women look for inclusion at firms, he said, including taking note of the number of female partners listed on the firm’s website. “If you really want to recruit women, you have to have women in place, so retention is your best recruiting strategy,” Anderson said, adding that female associates also look for firms that offer authentic mentoring programs.

Other priorities for women: a flexible schedule and “clear and consistent criteria for a path to partnership,” he said.

Chris Brown, chair-elect of the Young Lawyers Division and deputy city attorney in Mansfield, Ohio, said millennial lawyers are taking steps in the right direction, and cited YLD’s assembly, which passed a resolution supporting paid family leave at the Midyear Meeting.

Power structures are hard to fight, he said, and every generation chips away at them.

He added that one way to change legal culture is for women to invite men to gatherings such as the Men in the Mix program, and make it clear they’re invited, not just welcome.

Collier agreed, saying men not only want women to come by their office and invite them to their gatherings, but want to know that they add value to the meetings.

She said the focus groups revealed that in the wake of #MeToo, men believed they would make mistakes during their interactions with women, and wanted women to help educate them.

Paulette Brown agreed, saying, “I have found that men who are allies are very willing to be coached.”

At the conclusion of the program, the audience was asked, “What’s one thing that you can do?” The responses included:

  • “Have more uncomfortable conversations.”
  • “Invite male classmates to women’s law caucus events.”
  • “As an older woman, I will let younger women know they can use my voice.”
  • “I will speak up earlier.”
  • “As a female partner, I won’t wait for the culture to change. I will help change it by letting them know why I’m leaving early.”

Katherine Larkin-Wong, an associate at Latham & Watkins LLP in San Francisco, moderated the discussion. The complete research findings are expected to be released by Sept. 1.