A general business publication named Crain’s ran an article recently about the very small percentage of women holding CEO, CFO and lead business development titles. Crain’s pointed out the notable exception: Women are entering the executive ranks (or the C-Suite) via general counsel positions.
While the CEO and CFO facts are disappointing, I choose today to celebrate the good news. Women are indeed leading law departments in robust numbers, and a strong pipeline of future candidates indicates a pretty straight arrow up in those numbers going forward. But I’ll leave the reporting on metrics to others.
To me, the interesting story is the growing cultural support system promoting and recognizing women general counsel. InsideCounsel has been leading the way. Our new publisher, Lloyd Johnson, is the architect of three critical initiatives: the Transformative Leadership Awards (TLA), Project 5/165 and the brand new Women, Influence & Power in Law. Johnson is building a trifecta of complementary missions. TLA celebrates success at the very top. Project 5/165 includes a “how to” workshop for lieutenant level female attorneys who aspire to the big chair. Women, Influence & Power in Law promises to take the networking component of this cultural support system to a new level.
Our firm has proudly sponsored TLA for three years running. Yes, it is good for business. But for me these initiatives feel personal because candidly they act as a way for me to honor my mother. Merle Evers marched on Washington with Dr. King in 1963, she earned a post graduate degree, and then held her own as a professional in a dual income 1970s household while neighboring moms were staying home. She lost her bout with breast cancer at the age of 49, just as she was reaching some of her main career goals. When I observe the age at which many general counsel are hired, late 40s is the sweet spot.
I feel really good about another support system event our firm sponsored last month, a national effort called the New Girls’ Network (NGN). Since NGN was created by an academic via The Center for WorkLife Law, its programming takes a hard social science approach to addressing real challenges. From balancing motherhood with career, to not becoming the note taker at meetings, to managing alpha male subordinates, NGN serves up high quality advice for future women general counsel.
This cultural support system portends more than just a rise in numbers. I believe it will enhance the success and happiness of those women who sit in the big chair. It would be nice to see similar initiatives helping women land more CEO and CFO jobs. Perhaps the events discussed here can inspire others in that regard.