Global Elite Thought Leader Jane Colston discusses how to increase diversity in the legal industry, the challenges posed by imposter syndrome and discusses advice for women aiming for leadership roles.
I think it is key that we dismantle frontiers and help promote equity and inclusion at all levels. In my view, a focus on diversity and inclusion in the law means a focus on the equitable distribution of opportunities and that starts from day 1. That is why for example since December 2016 Brown Rudnick has been hosting in its London office a Women in Business Series where we have asked inspirational women speakers from various areas of business to speak about their careers. The events are designed to enable men and women lawyers at all levels to build a network of support and contacts. We have had the pleasure of being joined by some excellent speakers since the series began including: Amber Rudd, while she was Home Secretary; Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner; Cath Kidston, MBE, and soon we will be joined by Mrs Justice Carr (due to Covid 19, we will be holding this event online). I wholly support all the firm does to ensure diversity and inclusion are promoted both internally and externally. It makes it a rich place to work.
Recruitment and retention of working parents. Law firms are alive to the challenge of how to attract and retain the best talent and they recognise how hard it can be to balance a career and a family especially in the early days. How to best provide that help and support? One way which is proving a success is to offer gender-neutral parental leave policies and parental leave coaching. The Government’s Legal Department has brought in a specialist to supply such coaching service and workshops are offered pre and post parental leave. While Aviva, following implementation of new parental leave policies, announced that two-thirds of fathers were taking an average of six months’ parental leave. By supporting team members back into the workplace after starting a family, firms will ensure that: their talent pipeline is vibrant and stable; its teams balanced and diverse: and their reputation as an employer of choice enhanced.
The “impostor phenomenon” was first described by American clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes as an “internal experience of intellectual phoniness” experienced by those with “outstanding academic and professional achievements.” The thrust of many self -help books on this topic includes self-compassion and to not “to let perfection get in the way of good”.
The Imposter Syndrome/Phenomenon is experienced by some of the most talented professionals across industries. Women, in particular, often experience this at higher rates than their male counterparts. It is also especially likely during periods of life transition or when you are outside your comfort zone. When faced with self-doubt, great strategies to counteract it might include to:
How might you mentor someone suffering from this? Strategies might include to:
I think it's important for law firm leaders to signal that gender equity is a high priority and that women can succeed at their firms. They have to be willing to model behaviours conducive to the success of women (i.e. mentorship/sponsorship/business coaching and Allyship) and hold their partners accountable for doing the same. Firms can also publicly commit to programs like the Mansfield Rule that focus on the equitable representation of women and diverse attorneys in the law and commit to considering at least 30% women, attorneys of colour, LGBTQ+ and lawyers with disabilities for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, formal client pitch opportunities, and senior lateral positions.
I am one of Brown Rudnick's equity, inclusion and diversity (EID) partners along with my New York partner, Chelsea Mullarney. We take over this important role from our Boston partner Sunni Beville as she has now been promoted to Managing Director of Dispute Resolution & Restructuring. I take pride in holding this important leadership role and working with Chelsea and Renauld Clarke (Director of EID) toward making the firm an even-more inclusive workplace for women, diverse, differently-abled and LGBT+ attorneys. The firm’s EID initiatives include Social Mobility Fellowship (open to law students who are the first in their families to graduate from college), "On Ramp" fellowship (which supports experienced lawyers who are committed to returning to work after a career break) and Adoption Benefits.
The advice I would give is to go for it. Regardless of whether you have role models of women partners or leaders in your organization, don't be afraid to blaze your own trail, create opportunities for yourself and others, and strive towards your goal. Do your best to network and seek sponsorship/mentorship from partners with influence who may not look like you but are willing to take a chance on assisting you in building/improving your practice. Some of the most successful mentoring relationships you will ever have may be with someone wholly different from you. Accept life is challenging (never more so than now with Covid 19) but the mentally agile and curious learn new and adapt quick.