The Following Blog Appeared in Forbes Woman - Women Lawyers Who Are Saving the American Economy
In my last posting, I described the 2009 Women’s Power Summit on Law and Leadership sponsored by the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas School of Law, and the Austin Manifesto that resulted from the gathering. The prominent women lawyers from around the country committed to do their part to achieve the Austin Manifesto’s articulated goals of achieving a minimum of 30% women equity partners, tenured law professors and general counsel by 2015; and to achieve no less than 10% equity partners who are women of color by 2020. Anytime you can get a group of 150 leaders of the legal profession to unanimously support a detailed document containing goals and pledges, you know you are onto something important.
The Austin Manifesto remained front and center at the 2011 Women’s Power Summit on Law and Leadership. The title of the program symbolized optimism and resilience in the face of minimal progress in any meaningful measure of leadership and power for women in the legal profession. As underscored by Summit Chair Roberta Liebenberg, a Philadelphia attorney and Chair of the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession: “T]he glass ceiling still looms over us. Over the last 10 years, the percentage of women general counsel and women partners both equity and non-equity have remained virtually flat. . . . This is simply not acceptable in the 21st Century.” She then called on the 2001 Summit participants to “exercise their power to transform other sectors of the profession for ourselves and for future generations of women leaders.”
The keynote speakers and panelists at the 2011 Women’s Power Summit were women who have achieved power and leadership in their careers. Each brought their own insightful perspective to the topic of power: how we get it, how we use it, and how we can keep it. Gloria Feldt, author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, challenged participants to move beyond an outdated concept of “Power over” others which defines power as a finite pie. She stressed that by defining power more inclusively - for example, as a way to solve problems and achieve innovation - power can be seen as an infinite resource. As her book emphasized, women are positioned to collectively seek and use “Power to” as a form of leadership which works to eliminate barriers.
A number of panelists described how they use their power to help other women. For example, Arleas Upton Kea, the director of the FDIC’s Division of Administration who oversees staffing and support for approximately 9,000 employees, oversaw the implementation of the FDIC’s first strategic plan on diversity. Fernande R.V. Duffly, an Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, spoke about how she takes every opportunity to use her leadership roles – for example, as the former president of the National Association of Women Judges – to speak in settings where she can encourage young people and to engage in cross-cultural mentoring. Carla Christofferson, the Managing Partner of the Los Angeles office of O’Melveny & Myers, emphasized the importance of metrics, and described her own role in analyzing compensation statistics to ensure that accomplishments are appropriately recognized in the compensation process. And Michele Coleman Mayes, the Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Allstate Insurance Company, spoke of the detailed reporting Allstate requires from their outside counsel in order to ensure those who work on Allstate matters are appropriately credited and rewarded.
For 3 days, attendees at the Women’s Power Summit gave of their time, commitment, energy, and ideas to help move towards fruition the Austin Manifesto’s core principle that the legal profession will be enhanced when its leadership looks more like the diverse society it serves and represents. For women to take their rightful place at the top echelons, there must be concerted focus and a collective engagement in implementing the steps needed to make it happen. My next posting on this topic will describe the concrete commitments made by the attendees to help achieve this vision for the future of our profession.