As a young lawyer, Tiffani Lee found a partner who believed in her ability and helped push her up to the top ranks of Miami’s Holland & Knight. Most often, the opposite is true: Organizational mechanisms at firms push out women and people of color.
Instead of complaining, women and minority lawyers gathered in Miami recently at a diversity and flexibility seminar to offer solutions, share ideas and speak candidly about the changing face of professional services businesses and how diverse talent plays an important role.
“If professional service firms want to sell talent, they need to recruit and keep the best of the entire talent pool,” said Manar Morales, president and CEO of Diversity & Flexibility Alliance, a national forum dedicated to the promotion and retention of women lawyers and work/life control for all attorneys.
Here’s an employer-and-employee guide for how to navigate the challenges that lead people to leave.
Inclusion: Don’t leave women and minorities on the fringes. Amy Furness, a shareholder with the law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt in Miami, says having someone in a leadership role who recognizes and shows a commitment to diversity by his actions can help the message of inclusion permeate throughout the firm.
Accountability: It is easy to create company policies that promote diversity, flexibility and volunteerism and work/life control. But there are some partners who will tell young associates that if they want to be successful, they should not take advantage of those policies. That is where accountability becomes crucial.
Ms. Lee, an equity partner at Holland & Knight, said partners at her firm are evaluated — and even compensated — based partly on how many opportunities they provide to women and minority associates and what they've done to support diversity and inclusion. “The only way to drive change is to factor it into compensation,” Ms. Lee says.
Flexibility: At some point, the success of the firm — and the diverse talent pool — will depend on whether it offers flexibility, Ms. Morales says. Most associates want a reputation for getting things done; however, they want control over how and when.
Succession: While most law firms have eliminated a mandatory retirement age, many of the boomers at the top will begin paring back in the next decade. As leaders retire, it creates opportunity for the next generation — and for more inclusion.
Nikki Lewis Simon, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig in Miami, says her firm has worked consciously to bring women and minority lawyers into leadership, onto the executive committee and onto committees that interact with senior management.
Transparency: Women who have made it to the top have this advice for others — don’t over-explain. Women tend to give a detailed explanation for why they need to leave early or work from home. “They give much more information than necessary,” says Yuliya Laroe, a lawyer and business coach. “We need to empower ourselves to believe it’s no one’s business as long as we have met our deliverables.”
Sponsorship: In addition to defined responsibilities, associates need help identifying growth opportunities if they are going to advance to the partnership level. For women and minorities, having a sponsor can be crucial for finding those opportunities.
Time management/work-life control: Getting to the top to become an equity partner and staying there is giant responsibility that requires the ability to bring in business and make a contribution to the firm’s bottom line while balancing home life and community involvement.
Ms. Morales tells lawyers to be strategic. “You could have activities that fill your plate but not all give you the same benefit,” she explains, adding that women tend to be on committees that don’t advance their careers. “When you’re asked, think, ‘Will this committee connect me with the right people? Is it valued in the firm? Or, is it just busy work?’”
Cindy Krischer Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org