As a young lawyer, Tiffani Lee found a partner who believed in her ability and helped push her up to the top ranks of Miami's Holland & Knight. Most often, the opposite is true: Organizational mechanisms at firms push out women and people of color.
Those dynamics explain why diversity drops off sharply at the higher levels of law firm management, even though the entry-level workforce at law firms is more diverse than ever before.
"If professional service firms want to sell talent, they need to recruit and keep the best of the entire talent pool," said Manar Morales, president and CEO of Diversity & Flexibility Alliance, a national forum dedicated to the promotion and retention of women lawyers and work/life control for all attorneys.
Here's an employer and employee guide for how to navigate the challenges that lead people to leave. It is based on a panel discussion by Miami lawyers.
Inclusion: Don't leave women and minorities on the fringes. Amy Furness, a shareholder with the lawfirm of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt in Miami, says having someone in a leadership role who recognizes and shows a commitment to diversity by his actions can help the message of inclusion permeate throughout the firm, which can be particularly important for those partners who may not be thinking about diversity when they choose staff to work on their cases. "Getting leadership involved in ensuring inclusion prevents (diversity) from becoming marginalized," Furness said.
Accountability: It is easy to create company policies that promote diversity, flexibility and volunteerism and work/life control. But there are some partners who will tell young associates that if they want to be successful, they should not take advantage of those policies. That is where accountability becomes crucial.
Lee, an equity partner at Holland & Knight, said partners at her firm are evaluated and even compensated based partly on how many opportunities they provide to women and minority associates and what they've done to support diversity and inclusion. "The only way to drive change is to factor it into compensation," Lee says. At her firm, partners "are asked about who is on their team and how they are working with the client to ensure the team is diverse and how they are supporting the firm's broader diversity efforts."
Lee say ties between a commitment to values and compensation happens at all levels. Associates perform a self evaluation, too. They are eligible for a diversity kudos bonus if they have done something extraordinary.
Morales says some firms she has worked with actually detail how much compensation a lawyer lost out on for not being inclusive. "They actually say you would have gotten X, but you got Y because you didn't work on things we value."
Flexibility: At some point, the success of the firm � and the diverse talent pool will depend on whether it offers flexibility, Morales says. Most associates want a reputation for getting things done; however, they want control over how and when.
"We need to change the mindset around flexibility," Morales says. "When managers hear flexibility, they think people don't want to work as hard. Flexibility is not just reduced hours but also control over hours. It's a different way to approach work and people actually achieve increased efficiency."
Morales advises firms not to put their flexibility program under their women's initiative, but to make it a firm-wide business issue. "Research shows men want flexibility as much as women."
At most firms, men are taking advantage of flexibility � although informally and quietly. Morales found at one firm, a senior male partner works from home every Monday, but few realize it. "Flexibility will be embraced when firms encourage people who have power to be open about how and when they use flexibility."
Succession: While most law firms have eliminated a mandatory retirement age, many of the boomers at the top will begin paring back in the next decade. As leaders retire, it creates opportunity for the next generation � and for more inclusion. Some firms already are planning ahead.
Nikki Lewis Simon, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig in Miami, says her firm has worked consciously to bring women and minority lawyers into leadership, onto the executive committee and onto committees that interact with senior management. This allows the firm to address issues of the next generation not just years from now, but today.
"I think the next generation of leaders will have a sense of mutual respect: With them, it isn't us and them, it's we. There's an understanding that we all have stuff we want to accomplish outside the office."
Transparency: Women who have made it to the top have this advice for others: Don't over-explain.
Women tend to give a detailed explanation for why they need to leave early or work from home. "They give much more information than necessary," says Yuliya Laroe, a lawyer and business coach. Laroe say that often hurts them when partners assume if they don't see them in the office, they are with their kids. "We need to empower ourselves to believe it's no one's business as long as we have met our deliverables."