All firms participating in the recently published 2019 National Association of Women Lawyers Report on the Promotion and Retention of Women in Law Firms (NAWL) reported they have women’s initiatives. Little is known, however, about the programming associated with these women’s initiatives.
Few firms responded to questions about programming details. As a result, NAWL wasn’t able to do an analysis. Respondents did report, however, that their programming included business development (98%) and “soft skills” including navigating the law firm.
The report’s author, Destiny Peery, concluded that firms are still finding it a challenge to be strategic with their programming. She noted that opportunities for improvement include:
- connecting the dots so that it is clear how programming is tied to the goals and objectives the firm has set for the initiative
- directing programming to specific audiences to ensure their needs are met and
- creating programming that is deep enough to produce change where women’s advancement is most affected.
I agree and add that my experience has been that women’s initiatives have offered little real skill building programming*. Why? A few reasons:
- Budgets are tight. Firms are reluctant to make the necessary investment to ensure that the women’s initiative can get meaningful results.
- Because resources are so constrained those leading women’s initiatives are forced to make difficult choices – a wine and cheese tasting or shoe shopping event are relatively inexpensive activities that can fill the calendar and provide excellent photo opportunities. Don’t get me wrong, I like wine and shoes as much as the next person! These sorts of occasions aren’t likely to accomplish more than creating good will though.
- Events are relatively easy to do – the best ones have a speaker, hopefully one with some research-based advice. But a speaker, even an excellent speaker, will be able to only raise awareness. Building skills involves acquiring knowledge and applying it to commonly faced career situations. Practice is required.
- There’s a lot of bad content out there. Not only is bad content offensive – and wrong – but it will damage a women’s initiative. Creating strong, research-based content is time-consuming; busy leaders of women’s initiatives often don’t have the bandwidth to do it.