I had the honor, along with many other women in law, of joining Thomson Reuters this past Tuesday, March 3rd for their summit on Transformative Leadership: Empowering Women by Improving Participation and Representation in New York City, which coincided with International Women’s Day this Sunday, March 8th.
The summit showcased some of the most powerful women in law, business, government, and academia, as they discussed how to accelerate and transform the path to leadership—not to mention a panel of extremely impressive men who also consider themselves to be “Gender Justice Warriors”—a term coined by keynote speaker, Carol Robles-Román, President & CEO of Legal Momentum and former Deputy Mayor for Legal Affairs & Counsel to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
The day left me inspired, and also pushed me to ask myself what we can all do as women in law to help change the professional landscape so that women are more equally represented in positions of power.
One of the key elements discussed throughout the day was not just how women can achieve leadership positions within companies and firms, but rather to go one step further and also focus on how to raise the representation of women on company boards of directors. Today, women represent approximately 17% of corporate board positions (which usually translates into one “token” woman on the board). There was a strong cry from the panelists to increase this percentage, as corporate boards are able to swiftly demand change of the companies they govern on issues such as pay disparity, flexible work schedules, and even composition of the leadership team.
Many of the speakers—both men and women—stressed that there is a growing body of research showing that companies run by leadership teams with true gender diversity perform better. According to McKinsey & Company, companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns that were above their national industry median. Joseph Keefe, President & CEO of Pax World Management LLC, stressed that as this type of data becomes more widely accepted, shareholders will demand gender diversity in leadership positions simply because it makes good business sense.
The topic of sponsors vs. mentors was also discussed throughout the day and as someone who grew up professionally hearing only about mentors, the term sponsor—in the context it was being used—was new to me. While mentors can be invaluable in terms of being a sounding board and providing advice, a sponsor is someone in your organization who is senior enough to directly impact your growth. This person (male or female) will have the influence and the ability to advocate for increases in pay and recommend you for increases in responsibilities and promotions. In return, you must deliver and work hard to make your sponsor look good so they can continue to earn the respect of the organization’s leadership team. While mentors will always be important, think about finding yourself a sponsor as well since the two serve very different purposes for your professional development and advancement.
As this blog post only covers the tip of the iceberg of everything that was discussed during this inspiring summit, I wanted to share with you a list of books that were recommended by various speakers during the day (see below). In preparation for International Women’s Day this weekend, I hope you find these topics to be as inspiring as I did and even more so, I hope—whether you are a man or a woman—you find a way to take some of this information and use it to effect change.
- “Fast Forward” by Kim Azzarelli
- “Strengths Finder 2.0” by Tom Rath
- “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith
- “On Becoming a Leader” by Warren Bennis
- “Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman” by Gail Evans
- “She Wins, You Win” by Gail Evans
- “The First Person You Need to Lead is You” by Rebecca Halstead
- “What Works for Women at Work” by Joan C. Williams, Rachel Dempsey and Marie Slaughter
- “Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett