Bloomberg Law
July 22, 2016, 7:09 PM

Evaluating Return on Women’s Initiatives at Law Firms (Perspective)

Penny Paul
Knapp Marketing
Susan Peters

Editor’s Note: The authors of this post are law school graduates who work in marketing and public relations.

When men and women lawyers discuss and assess the value of Women’s Initiatives at law firms, their differing perspectives and the results often indicate why there is a need for women’s initiatives in the first place.

Often, law firm’s management committees are dominated by males. They are also, coincidentally or not, bottom-line focused, even to the exclusion of other factors.

We once worked with a firm where two female senior associates vigorously advocated for the implementation of a women’s initiative: they discussed internal benefits like mentoring and team building, in addition to business development advantages like networking and relevance for certain public and private RFPs. When they presented their proposal to the all-male management committee, however, all the committee really wanted to know was “What’s the ROI (return on investment)?”

As marketing and public relations professionals, we understand the challenge of being asked to quantify activities that may not immediately correspond to an exact dollar value. Many branding and marketing projects may not at first glance be directly responsible for generating revenue- but it is inarguable that dynamic websites, persuasive messaging, relevant media mentions and eye catching design all play important roles in the accumulation of “touchpoints” which lead to the eventual conversion of a contact into a client.

Similarly non-numeric advantages are often cited in the arguments in favor of Women’s Initiatives as well. At a recent LMA event, panelists listed benefits such as improved retention, firm culture, and the ability to attract clients who want a firm whose values align with theirs. The monetary benefits often are indirect: a firm may have instituted their program for purely internal reasons, but subsequent recognition by publications like Forbes’ Best Places for Women to Work creates tangible external marketing benefits: or, ROI.

Justifying the spending of marketing dollars on events aimed at women only is an ongoing challenge where competing practice areas, technology upgrades, and numerous other demands vie for their share of firms’ annual budgets. And these challenges are only sharpened by the differences in how the two genders approach subjects like business, relationships, and professional development.

We have come a long way from the 80s when women were instructed to look and act like men to get ahead in a men’s world. Academics observe that there is a trend towards “feminization of the workplace,” encouraging more compassion, inclusion and cooperation.

In a sector where 50 percent of law school graduates are women but the number of women in leadership positions still lingers below 30 percent, there is still much that needs to be done.

If a women’s initiative at a law firm helps stem the attrition of female associates in their fourth and fifth years, that is already a quantifiable benefit, not in terms of exact clients gained but in terms of retention and maximizing the investment made in personnel. Acknowledging that women may benefit from support that is not strictly measurable in dollars and cents may actually make good business sense after all.