On March 29, 2016 Harvard Law School Executive Education (HLSEE) hosted the Women’s Leadership Round Table, bringing together 28 female law firm leaders from across the United States and Canada at Harvard Law School. The women partners – who have firm-wide leadership roles, such as managing partner, chair, member of managing committee or member of the executive committee – participated in a day of interactive lectures and case study discussions facilitated by Professors David Wilkins and Scott Westfahl, along with Dr. Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio. The event began with brief remarks from Dean Martha Minnow, whose quote from Dolly Parton’s set the tone for the event:
“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.” Dolly Parton
This event grew out of an informal gathering of women leaders who were meeting somewhat regularly to discuss the responsibilities and challenges of being women leaders in a predominantly male profession. Advancing diversity in the legal profession is a cornerstone of HLSEE’s educational philosophy, and the opportunity to partner with these women provided HLSEE’s core faculty with an opportunity to present recent research about gender and diversity in the legal field to an audience eager to identify challenges and create new strategies to move women leaders – and the profession – forward. Over the course of the day these women explored topics ranging from recruiting practices, re-entry to the profession, sponsorship, and redefining the criteria for leadership roles.
The energy surrounding the Round Table was palpable, an indication that this program occurred at a critical time. While the gender gap in law school attendance, and even in early associate classes, has almost been eliminated, the number of women in leadership positions in firms continues to be substantially lower than that of men. Armed with a broader understanding of both the current research and their own assessment of the obstacles that women leaders face, the participants used this event as to brainstorm ways in which we might most effectively confront key challenges. HLSEE, with continued collaboration with these women leaders, will work to build a more extensive program to continue examining and addressing the advancement of women lawyers into leadership roles.