I went to the annual Women and the Law Division (aka WLD) summer social earlier this summer. This is one of my favorite IndyBar gatherings because women law students, lawyers and judges of all ages and from all career paths have a chance to socialize, network and just have fun. WLD Chair Nicky Mendenhall ran the show and we were all equally entertained and motivated by guest speaker Judge Robyn Moberly, the first women in the state of Indiana to be appointed a federal bankruptcy court judge.
Again, just this past week I was grateful for the opportunity to socialize and network with some wonderful women lawyers and judges (and at least one law student) as part of an Indiana State Bar Association Women in Law function. We all met in Lafayette (shout out to the spirit of the Lake and Porter County lady lawyers who rented a bus for the trip!) for a delightful outdoor reception. Indiana Supreme Court Justice Loretta Rush and Judge Maggie Robb, Chief Judge of the Indiana Court of Appeals were the headliners at that event and it was a great, great evening.1
Here is my point: Ironically, several years ago there was some talk about whether there is still a need for separate divisions of bar associations for women. The leading argument, if I recall correctly, was that now that women have “equality in the workplace,”2 we don’t need such “special divisions” anymore.
Bluntly, I find such arguments tiresome, because if you don’t think women lawyers and women professionals in general have separate and distinct interests and indeed challenges in work/life balance, you need a serious and bracing reality check. I for one appreciate being with my female colleagues to fellowship over a meal, a cup of coffee or better yet a glass of wine about how they make it all work. I learn from this, and to the extent I can, I hope I help younger women lawyers understand that this is a safe place to be.
In a 2011 LinkedIn survey of more than 1000 female professionals in the U.S., 82% agreed that having a mentor is important BUT nearly 1 out of every 5 women reported never having one. Further, 52 percent of those women noted they just never had the opportunity. In a follow up article to this survey, one female exec at LinkedIn offered that as women learn to better “Lean In” by speaking up about their good works to get that partnership nod, salary boost or corner office, sponsors and mentors are irreplaceable because they help us blow our own horns—or better yet, they blow right along with us.
IndyBar’s Women and the Law Division excels at this by providing mentoring groups who get together on a regular basis. I am in Team Two led by the amazing Sarah Burkman. Sarah is a Senior Staff attorney at the Indiana Legislative Services Organization and an IndyBar mentor extraordinaire. She has been an active part of the Women and the Law Division for as long as I can remember. Kierston Kammon speaks fluent French and started her professional life much like I did, in telecommunications and broadcast journalism. Meg Christiansen has, in addition to practicing law at Bingham Greenbaum Doll, recently been the president of a nonprofit organization called Trusted Mentors—its goal is to end homelessness. Alix Lei Vollmer is the General Counsel of Residential Warranty Services and she was the Vice President of the Asian Law Students Association in her law school days. Carrie Brennan is a current law student trying to fit all the pieces together and making it work, just like we all did. These are the remarkable women I have in my WLD mentoring group. Where else would you hear conversations like these?
• “Yes, I (or my husband/partner) stayed home with our children for awhile and did not commit professional suicide. Here’s how.”
• “Did anyone read the article from the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession about best practices in negotiating compensation packages?”
• “In my next life I want to be a pediatric orthodontist who only works on Saturdays.”
• “What tips do you have for starting your own practice?”
• “What are some good pro bono opportunities that I can engage my female colleagues in”?
• “Stain stick is a gift from God.”
So this is a shout out for mentoring and networking groups of all kinds that are structured and safe. No one ever wants to ask for help or advice thinking they will get attitude or judgment of any kind on the backside. All generations of women need to speak up, support other women and speak truth to power.•
1 There is something to be said for dating a pilot who can build hours by flying you to events like this. #winwin
2 #yeahnotreally. See A Current Glance at Women in the Law; Feb. 2013 www.americanbar.org/women