Overcoming the hurdles within

Professional development occurs when awareness is internalized and the doors of opportunity can open widely

Putting aside the sexism debate for a moment, there is a notion that certain behaviors of women threaten to silence their place of leadership within their firms, their departments, the courtroom and the industry as a whole. But male or female, knowing behavioral change is needed often comes after that message has been repeated by different sources, whether they come in the form of a colleague’s observation or training with an executive coach. Professional development occurs when such awareness is internalized and, as a result, the doors of opportunity can open widely.

In November, I had the opportunity to sit down with two managing partners of Bowman & Brooke, Alana Bassin and Sandra Giannone Ezell, in which the two women collegially argued the merits of a five-page memo called “Presentation Tips for Women,” which was recently distributed by a member of the Women’s Committee to all women associates across the U.S. offices of Clifford Chance. Bassin’s argument is that the message of the memo is substantiated by the principle that women need to focus on areas that are inherently different than their male counterparts, such as pitch in a closing argument and giggling or squirming, all of which undermine the high-powered authority of a female legal professional. Meanwhile, Ezell’s assertion is that such “rules” are overtly sexist, and diminish the value women leaders offer to their organizations. “Women do not all think alike and it is the diversity of perspective and not the femaleness of it that matters,” she says.

As editor-in-chief of InsideCounsel, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the most influential leaders in our industry. It is clear that those on the path toward a leadership position—male or female—are in tremendous need of executive development training. While Bassin and Ezell disagreed on the messaging of the Clifford Chance memo, the bottom line is that both women are aligned on the key issue, which is furthering the development and success of exceptional women and men in the law. For this issue’s “Inside” feature, I interviewed the GCs of MassMutual and Nationwide Insurance to get to the heart of their professional development programs to share with our readers how you, too, can help up-and-coming attorneys be successful not just in their own careers, but also in carrying out their organization’s business mission.

I believe this quote from Sheryl Sandberg adequately summarizes: “Females are raised from birth to have different expectations. There’s an ambition gap, and it’s wreaking havoc on women’s ability to advance.... My argument is that getting rid of these internal barriers is critical to gaining power. We can dismantle the hurdles in oPurselves today. We can start this very moment.”

Editor in Chief

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Erin E. Harrison

Erin E. Harrison is the Editor in Chief of InsideCounsel magazine. Harrison’s professional background includes extensive expertise in both print and online media, highlighted by...

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