By Nicole Ament, shareholder at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
When addressing the gender leadership gap, there is wisdom in the phrase, “it takes a village.” I’ve held a variety of leadership roles during my 20 years as an attorney at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Currently I chair Brownstein’s nationally recognized Real Estate Department and also co-chair the firm’s Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI).
My career has come with regular reminders that I need to claim my seat at the table — and help other women do the same. In my experience, women can be hesitant to apply for leadership positions. Because women don’t think to put themselves up for leadership, having the encouragement of both male and female colleagues can be a powerful way to shift the paradigm and empower women to step forward. Putting a formal support structure in place is important to increasing women-led management, particularly in the legal industry, where some reports show women are only in 14 percent of leadership positions.
Groups like Brownstein’s WLI can help provide support for women to advance. We launched WLI in 2014 to foster greater connection among the women of the firm, provide additional professional development tools and training for women and advocate for greater opportunities for women in partnership and leadership positions. Our motto is “Empowered Women, Empower Women.” Over the last five years, WLI has worked with firm leadership on many initiatives.
One of the most powerful undertakings was partnering with the Diversity Lab on the Mansfield Rule pilot program. Modeled after the “Rooney Rule,” the Mansfield Rule measures whether firms have considered women and attorneys of color for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions and lateral positions. Brownstein achieved Mansfield Certification in 2018 and 2019 and continued our commitment by signing on to pilot the Mansfield Rule 3.0 in 2020, which includes attorneys with disabilities in addition to women, attorneys of color and LGBTQ+lawyers. Our Mansfield certification is the direct result of WLI efforts. Focusing on greater equity not just for women but for those with disabilities, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community helps us build a larger coalition to confront these gaps in leadership and creates a better support system generally.
Along with other initiatives, WLI coordinates office-specific, cross-departmental group mentoring circle meetings, female associate lunch ’n learns, opportunities to connect about cross-selling for female shareholders, and the Working Parents Network. To foster business development among women, the group launched the “Daunting to Doable” business development coaching program focused on expanding the group of female rainmakers as well as hosted numerous training programs on unconscious bias, silencing, leadership, negotiation, self-advocacy and more.
Another important aspect of furthering women in leadership positions is networking and community engagement opportunities. Hosting women’s retreats and industry-specific networking events or annual community service events, such as a clothing drive for nonprofits that support women like Dress for Success, are all ways to make women feel supported as they build relationships within an organization.
I have worked incredibly hard for my own seat at the table. Now that I’m here I see the need to work hard for other women. It’s more important than ever to make sure other women at my firm are given the opportunity to advance and continue to work on changing policies to be more inclusive to create those opportunities. Under the leadership of WLI and our Committee on
Diversity, Inclusion & Equity, we have updated and expanded our parental leave and parental transition policies. Our gender-neutral policy now provides more time off for new parents, and our attorneys and policy professionals are automatically enrolled in a reduced work schedule for the six months surrounding extended parental leave with full compensation. Other benefits that
are important to supporting women in the workplace are flexible or alternative work schedules, milk storage and shipping programs for nursing mothers and backup and child care programs.
When we have a seat at the table, we can create change, but we need to make sure we’re still listening. We recently started setting aside an hour for people to come speak with one of our female shareholders about issues, concerns or interests. Being a female professional in any high-profile industry is difficult, and I’ve seen that firsthand in my own career. I don’t care how anyone tries to color it, at the end of the day, the truth is that female professionals live exhausting lives. No matter what life looks like, outside of the office high-achieving women tend to take on demanding commitments on top of very demanding jobs. If empowered women empower women, we’ll see more representation in leadership positions that can help progress work environments to allow women to be the rock stars we all know we are.