Role models for change by Bryan Cave, Carol Osborne

This article was also featured as an opinion piece in the March 2016 issue of Briefing. To read the issue in full, download Briefing.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to developing and retaining talented women in the law. Perhaps that's why both UK and US law firms continue to struggle with diversity. Big firms have different challenges from small; firms in major cities have different needs to those in smaller, and US firms have slightly different cultures.

At Bryan Cave we haven’t necessarily broken away from the pack on diversity success, but we are thinking hard and we are taking some big steps forward. For example:

  1.  In the US, women represent 46% of our non-partner lawyers. 
  2.  In London, women make up 60% of non-partner lawyers (including trainees) and half of our 16 partners.

Our progress involves both organised and spontaneous effort, but can be tied to three factors: consistent focus on the issue, approachable and visible women role models, and the support of our male colleagues. There can be no improvement in promotion and retention without focus. In 2015, the firm reinvigorated its ‘women’s initiative’ by imposing structure – and therefore accountability. The ‘leadership board for BC women’ consists of eight female leaders, who represent different geographies, practice areas and career stages. Our chief marketing officer is a member – providing direct input into personal brand-building for women – and so is our chief diversity officer, driving the goal to increase women leaders at every level.

Our BC Women program also has three key (measurable) objectives:

  1. To increase the number of women rainmakers, partners and leaders. 
  2. To provide access to meaningful development opportunities.
  3. To elevate the profile of women lawyers internally and externally.

But the real work is done locally. Local programmes include creating business networks with other business leaders in the local community – something women can find it difficult to establish on their own.

Other programmes focus on the personal brand building and mentoring of younger women lawyers. 

Diversity studies consistently report that successful women role models are key. Our firm is doing more than most. Our chair is a white collar crime litigator who raised a family, building a private practice after leaving the Securities and Exchange Commission. And 10 of our 24 offices have women as office managing partners, including in major international cities. Our chief marketing officer, chief technology officer, chief innovation officer, chief diversity officer and general counsel are women.

Firms need to have women leaders like these who inspire. But finally, there is no success without the participation of our male colleagues. We're fortunate to have many examples of men who create meaningful opportunities for women associates to not only work on the most interesting deals or most challenging cases, but also to join pitch meetings and client development events. Male partners and senior associates even serve as mentors and sponsors of our women lawyers (and, for that matter, vice versa). Our women want to be team players – and that’s what happens. 

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