A Woman’s Seat at the Table: Is It Still There?

By Nicole Ament

Nicole Ament

Since I wrote my last article two years ago about women claiming a seat at the table, much has changed. When I look back, it’s hard to even compare that time with where we are now. I am thankful for the health of my family and the resiliency of my Real Estate Department team at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. For those of us working in the legal industry, we were able to transition to a remote working environment fairly smoothly, but our ability to form relationships from in-person interactions continues to be impacted.

As chair of Brownstein’s nationally recognized Real Estate Department and former co-chair of the firm’s Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI), I’ve been focused on women’s advancement in the legal industry for much of my career. The pandemic has been devastating to women in the workforce, erasing much of the gains we have made over the years. A report by the National Women’s Law Center showed that women suffered the majority of pandemic-related job losses in 2020, and while the economy is improving, women’s participation in the workforce is at the lowest it has been in more than 20 years. This feels like a huge step back.

Women already don’t think to put themselves up for leadership. Couple this with increased pressure from the pandemic resulting in high levels of burnout, it can feel like the gains that we saw in women attaining leadership positions might be lost. In the legal industry, much of our work is based on relationships—relationships with our clients, our colleagues and our communities. Maintaining and building relationships has been incredibly challenging throughout the pandemic. This is detrimental to women’s ability to gain a seat at the leadership table.

The networking and community engagement opportunities that I used to advance my career are not there in the same way they used to be. Hosting women’s retreats and industry-specific networking events or annual community service events that made women feel supported as they built relationships within an organization have not been an option. While some days this feels like a weight that can’t be lifted, I continue to come up with ways to reach out and support our women attorneys at the firm to make sure we don’t lose what we’ve been working to achieve. Now more than ever is when we need to find innovative ways to support women.

We have continued to do everything we can to ensure that women feel supported at Brownstein. Using the WLI framework to bring additional support and resources to the firm’s women, we created the weekly “Walk With our Women” program—connecting women to other women across the firm to just walk and talk freely. Since we know working parents have been one of the most impacted groups during the pandemic, we implemented the creative Brownstein Buddies series, which offered nine weeks of programming for employees’ children, including storytime, arts and crafts, dance lessons, and science experiments all led by employees’ older children for our firm’s younger children. We also continue our important work through the Mansfield Rule from the Diversity Lab, achieving Mansfield certification for the fourth year as we help lead the charge toward greater diversity and inclusion in the legal industry.

One bright spot during this time is the benefits of remote work for women. Remote and flex work is something that women have long been asking for. The benefits of flexible work are immense—no commute time, flexibility to attend school functions and being able to throw in a load of laundry while listening to a conference call—and they are now a market standard. It only took a pandemic! And while Zoom calls can get tedious, they have helped with the normalization of having to juggle a family with a job, especially when it’s not just younger women having kids pop up on camera. This should help women feel more comfortable in discussing those struggles and how it impacts their ability to claim a seat.

As opportunities for face-to-face networking begin to happen again, it will be vital for women to find ways to incorporate these events into their schedules. For me, in-person networking has been the most successful way to advance my business development and leadership skills. It will continue to be important for women’s representation in leadership.

Moving forward, I am committed to setting aside time to listen to women at our firm and in the real estate industry so we can continue to create change. A key part of creating this change is taking care of ourselves and each other. Being a female professional in a high-profile industry is exhausting since high-achieving women tend to take on demanding commitments on top of very demanding jobs while also showing empathy for those around them. Take care of yourselves—use that commute time you saved to do a Pilates class, watch Netflix or even take a nap.

The real estate industry ended 2021 with a huge amount of deal closings and 2022 is off to a busy start. It’s easy to get lost in the deal flow and daily client needs, but we can’t lose focus on making sure women are supported and given the leadership opportunities they deserve. While we may look at these pandemic years as a step back for women, I am hopeful that many of the changes women have been pushing for are now codified in the business community and something we’ll be able to springboard off for years to come.

Nicole Ament is shareholder at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and Real Estate Department chair. She has more than 20 years working in real estate law, experience managing transactions with as many as 276 properties in a single portfolio, as well as experience handling $1.5 billion in deals.

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