An Introduction to the Leadership Institute


The Ohio Women’s Bar Association (“OWBA”) began in 1991 as a result of a suggestion by Justice Alice Robie Resnick in a speech she made to a group of women attorneys in April of that year. The effort to make the OWBA a reality occurred in parallel to the work of the Ohio Joint Task Force on Gender Fairness sponsored by the Ohio State Bar Association (“OSBA”). According to the Executive Summary of the OSBA’s report on gender fairness, “An Ohio Women’s Bar Association was created to ensure the development of leadership skills and to recognize the unique needs of women” in the legal profession.

As an important first step, the OWBA led to increased opportunities for women to develop leadership skills in the legal profession. However, not enough progress has occurred in increasing the number of women in those leadership roles. One of the OWBA’s core missions is to promote the leadership of women attorneys. To accomplish this mission, the OWBA has adopted a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson as on point with the OWBA’s goals, "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." The OWBA knows that women attorneys need to attain top leadership roles in greater numbers so they can leave a well-defined trail for other women to follow.

In 2010, the OWBA created the Ohio Women’s Bar Foundation, a 501(c)(3) entity (“OWBF”) as the next step towards increasing the number of women entering leadership roles in the law. The OWBF is positioned to take the next step through its creation of a Leadership Institute. This new Leadership Institute will assist women lawyers in developing their leadership skills, in giving them practical knowledge on how to be recognized as a leader, in rainmaking, and in providing awareness in the profession that progress towards increased leadership by women remains necessary.

Oftentimes, law firms and corporations do not invest money in leadership training for attorneys. Even if the firm or corporation does provide leadership training, such training is unlikely to focus on the particular challenges that women face on their career path. The Leadership Institute will be designed to lend a hand and to help empower women who are emerging leaders with practical knowledge and strategies on business development so as to attain significant leadership roles.
Mission of Leadership Institute 
To advance inclusiveness within the legal profession and supplement the professional skills of women lawyers by enhancing their leadership, business development, and communication skills for the benefit of the diverse communities in which they work, live, and serve.
Need to Close Leadership Gap for Women
Although many believe that women’s equality is already in place since so many women are educated and work today, the reality is that women have made very little progress in reaching the executive level in many industries. According to the White House Project Report, women only make up “18 percent of our top leaders and make 78.7 cents to every dollar earned by a man, an undefined wage gap that increases with age” even though “about 90 percent” of Americans “are comfortable with women as top leaders in all sectors, from academia and business to media and the military.” 

Although women have made up 48% of law school graduates for a number of years, they only make up 25% of judges and 18% of law partners.  The percentage of women partners has remained stalled at 18% over the last 15 years.

Moreover, the median salaries for women lawyers were about 78% of the salaries of male attorneys in 2007.   Men “Of Counsel” lawyers earn about $20,000 more than women “Of Counsel” lawyers and male equity partners earn $90,000 more than their female equity partners.

The Key: Gaining the Critical Number of Women Lawyers in Leadership Positions
Increasing the number of women serving in leadership roles is the key to gender fairness, breaking down stereotypes, and long-term success of women in the legal profession.  This increase in the number of women leaders has been referred to as “critical mass.”    This term is borrowed from nuclear physics and it refers to “the quantity needed to start a chain reaction, an irreversible propulsion into a new situation or process.”   Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in “Men and Women of the Corporation,” argued when women reach a critical mass as leaders, others will stop viewing them as women and start evaluating them based on their performance.

What is the critical mass goal? Well, a study by the Wellesley Center for Women found that having “a critical mass of three or more women can cause a fundamental change in the boardroom and enhance corporate governance.”   When one in three leaders is a woman, people no longer see women leading as unusual or noteworthy. Then, other women will have leadership role models and believe they will also have the opportunity to move up. Once a critical mass is achieved in leadership, stereotypes will be less prominent as people’s perception of women changes for both men and women.

Leadership Institute Training

To empower women to hone their leadership, business development, and networking skills, the working committee recommended that the Leadership Institute provide training in the following areas: 1) Practical Business Development Strategies and Rainmaking; 2) Effective Leadership; 3) Executive Coaching and Career Strategy; 4) Effective Communication Techniques; 5) Social Media: Trends and Ethical Considerations; and 6) Public Speaking Skills.

Practical Business Development Strategies and Rainmaking
A key to success for lawyers is gaining business, in other words making money, not just for a lawyer but also for the lawyer’s firm or company - whether this is gaining clients, increasing billable hours, investments, etc. One recommended goal of the Leadership Institute is to provide practical strategies on how to generate business as well as how to utilize contacts more effectively.

Effective Leadership
Many women have difficulty promoting themselves to others and taking credit for accomplishments, particularly since women generally are more focused on collaboration. One recommended goal of the Leadership Institute is to instill in its members the importance of investing time into developing effective leadership skills to benefit the diverse communities in which they work, live and serve. Part of being an effective leader includes being recognized as a leader so practical methods for gaining recognition will also be covered.

Executive Coaching and Career Strategy
In this economic time, everyone must engage in strategic career planning to benefit their employer as well as their own career. One recommended goal of the Leadership Institute is to provide class members with the opportunity to be assessed and receive executive coaching. This will assist participants to determine what roles they should seek to benefit their employer as well as their community. The training will also include practical methods for bypassing roadblocks, demonstrating their value and lateral transfers. Members will also learn the value of mentors and champions as well as how to best cultivate such relationships.

Effective Communication Techniques
One recommended goal of the Leadership Institute is to work towards the view that women and men are judged based on their performance. Effective communication techniques are critical to achieving this goal. In a 2006 report entitled, “Charting Our Progress,” the American Bar Association Commission on Women made the following statement: “[b]oth men and women report that women lawyers are viewed as insufficiently aggressive, uncomfortably forthright, too emotional, or not as serious as men about their careers. When women opt for family leave or report sexual harassment, these stereotypes are reinforced.” The opposite can be true and women can also be seen as too bossy or too aggressive. This program will cover the influence of cultural beliefs on the effectiveness of communication and the OSBA Gender Fairness Survey as well as practical information from successful women leaders in communications, business, law firm practice and the judiciary.

Social Media: Trends and Ethical Considerations
Social Media is quickly becoming a major part of people’s lives. It can be a valuable branding and marketing tool when used effectively. There are special ethical considerations for legal professionals when using social media. This program will cover information about these ethical issues as well as upcoming trends in social media. The program will include training on the major social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as well as hands on workshops to assist participants in improving and/or setting up accounts to take advantage of these valuable relationship building tools.

Public Speaking Skills
One of the recommended Leadership Institute’s goals is to ensure that members have ample opportunity to practice their public speaking (including in critical stakeholder meetings) skills as well as practical training on how to keep their audience’s attention and communicate their messages clearly. Practice and ongoing speaking opportunities tends to be the best way to maintain this crucial skill.

Benefits of Increase in Number of Women Leaders
“Prominent research groups, including the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University and the Women & Politics Institute at American University, have long noted that women tend to include diverse viewpoints in decision making, have a broader conception of public policy, and are also more likely to work through differences to form coalitions, complete objectives, and bring disenfranchised communities to the table.”

Diversity is not merely an issue of fairness. Instead, it can provide any organization with a strong financial advantage. “Fortune 500 companies with high percentages of women officers experience, on average, a 35.1 percent higher return on equity and a 34 percent higher total return to shareholders than those with low percentages of women corporate officers, according to a recent study by Catalyst. “Research about corporate boards, analogous to law firm governing committees, shows that decision-making suffers when there are only one or two women on a governing board.   In other words, three or more women are necessary on a governing board for “an organization to benefit the most from women’s contributions.”

A recent Ernst and Young report, “demonstrated that groups with greater diversity tend to perform better than homogeneous ones, even if the members of the homogeneous groups are more capable.”   The Ernst and Young Report found that the diversity of a group matters as much as their ability and brainpower and concluded, “The diverse group almost always outperforms the group of the best by a substantial margin.”

In addition, the large “baby boomers” generation (about 76 million people, born between 1946 and 1964) working in our society is aging and will retire in greater numbers leaving “Generation X” (about 46 million people, born between 1965 and 1979) to fill those roles. This change in demographics will make leadership training for women crucial to the success of our society and its future.  Law firms and companies need to be made aware of how increasing women in leadership can benefit their business.

The Leadership Institute will not only show members the benefits to increasing the number of women in leadership, but it will also provide participants with the information and tools potentially needed to convince employers of the return on their investments by increasing leadership opportunities for women.

Funding Options
The Leadership Institute continues to research potential grant funding opportunities. The bulk of the funding however stems from the OWBF plans to solicit funding from law firms, companies, community leaders and OWBA members. The fundraising effort will be multi-faceted and include phone calls, meetings and both letter and email campaigns.

The Leadership Institute is a vital piece of the efforts to increase past the critical mass of women in leadership roles in the legal profession. Breaking down stereotypes and glass ceilings will happen when critical mass at the top is achieved. In addition, increasing the number of women in leadership positions will not only improve public understanding and access to the legal system for women, but it will also be a proactive step towards building a better and more justice system.

Currently, a woman holds about one out of five leadership positions. The OWBA’s goal of one in three is attainable.  It will take much longer for this goal to be achieved without companies and organizations supporting and empowering women to attain top leadership positions.

The Leadership Institute is a catalyst to propel women attorneys’ progress at a more rapid trajectory than in the past.

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