Big Law firms are hosting events, talks and charity drives to highlight equality and equal treatment for women ahead of International Women’s Day.
“More and more professional women are focusing on these questions of equality and equal treatment in the workplace,” LaDawn Naegle, a partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, said. “And International Women’s Day can be a springboard for examining these topics that we have in common.”
Naegle recently stepped down after five years as managing partner of Bryan Cave’s Washington office, which has in recent years centered its observance of International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8, around the topic of leadership.
This week, Therese Pritchard, former firm co-chair, will address transformational leadership, drawing on experiences leading the firm and then overseeing its merger two years ago.
The women’s rights day is observed at the beginning of Women’s History Month, also held this month, which firms also are using to bring attention to women’s rights, especially in the workplace.
It is a sensitive issue for women lawyers in Big Law. Women represent more than half of law school graduates and are hired in greater numbers than men. But there are relatively few women are partners and leaders, according to official industry data.
Most large firms have programs to recruit and help advance women, as well as minorities. But key metrics, like the percentage of equity partners—hovering around 20%—have remained static for years.
“In my 1991 class, 50 percent of the graduates were women, but when I made partner, in 2000, 50 percent were not women,” said Morgan Lewis & Bockius partner Joanne Soslow.
Soslow heads the firm’s ML Women Initiative to support the professional advancement of the firm’s women lawyers.
Firms are taking steps to make sure International Women’s Day programs appeal across the board.
White & Case is broadening its program offerings to get the whole office involved in New York, said Arlene Hahn. She’s chair of the firm’s global diversity committee and co-chair of its New York Women’s Alliance, which is part of the firm-wide network to promote professional development for women lawyers and women business services employees.
“We want to make it inclusive of everyone,” she said.
White & Case is hosting a panel discussion on Friday called “An Equal World is an Enabled World.” Another firm presentation in coming days will address the ways people can fulfill the International Women’s Day’s theme #EachforEqual,” which calls for individuals “to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.”
In addition, a series of facts about women lawyers and their history at the firm, as well as about women’s rights achievements more broadly and women’s voting milestones will be posted on screens, which display firm news and announcements, on each floor.
“There will be information on the gender pay gap and the disparity in equity partners, as well as information about the firm’s first women attorneys,” said Hahn.
At Morgan Lewis, Soslow said the firm is celebrating its lawyers, staff and clients in the run-up to International Women’s Day. The firm has internal and external events to mark the day as part of its ML Women initiative.
It efforts also will include a fireside chat streamed to employees by firm head Jami McKeon, who is one of the small number of women leading major law firms.