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THE MANSFIELD RULE: Making Leadership More Than a Man’s Field
By Patricia K. Gillette — “What if we consider that it is not the women, but the system that needs to be fixed?”
Whatever we are doing in law firms to increase gender diversity in positions of economic and institutional power is not working. How do we know that? Simply look at the statistics. The number of women equity partners in top rainmaking positions, at the top of the compensation schedules in law firms, and in lead positions for trials and deals has been stagnant for the last several decades.
“Fixing” the Women: A Brief Overview
And what are law firms doing about the slow rate of change? The same things they have done for years – including offering special training to women to account for the alleged skill deficiencies that keep them from moving up in their firms. The titles of the training programs change from year to year and the trainers change as well. What doesn’t change? The number of women in positions of power in their firms.
Why is that? Is it because women just can’t be taught the skills they need to be successful power brokers? Is it because men are natural born leaders who can move into power positions with ease and successfully perform their responsibilities without the training that women supposedly need? Is it because women aren’t really ambitious and don’t want the power and financial rewards that come with leadership positions in their firms? These are some of the “explanations” that have traditionally been offered to account for the deficit in the numbers of women in positions of power in law firms. And thus the “solutions” have remained the same: fix the women.
But that obviously doesn’t work. Because law firms have been trying to “fix the women” for years without success. And, unless one buys into the idea that women are not as able as men to assume positions of power, clearly something is wrong with the approach law firms have been taking to correct the lack of gender diversity in top leadership and power positions.
So what if we consider a new premise. What if we consider that it is not the women, but the system that needs to be fixed?
What we know about work assignments, client contact, lead counsel positions, top compensation levels, and leadership positions, is that these opportunities are, for the most part, controlled by white men. So that when those men are looking for successors to fill those positions, they consciously or unconsciously tend to look first toward people who look like them. Other than the one or two women who have some visibility in the firm, most women are not on the radar screen for these positions. In the past, firms have often addressed this by giving women special “leadership” training or business development training. And while those are certainly valuable opportunities for women to learn skills that are vital to their success, the effort to move women into positions of power cannot stop there. Why? Because training only works if it is coupled with opportunity. And it is the opportunity that has been lacking in the equation for firms trying to increase the number of women in positions of power.
The Mansfield Rule
How do firms change that? The team Rosalie Chamberlain and I led at Diversity Lab’s Women in Law Hackathon last June proposed one idea that is now being developed further by Diversity Lab and about to be tested/piloted in more than 30 law firms. (See press release.)
It is simple, easy to implement, and it will have impact.
It is called The Mansfield Rule, named after Arabella Mansfield, the first female attorney in the United States. The Hackathon team purposefully chose this name to reflect that this approach to increasing the number of women in leadership positions would also be a first for the legal profession.
The Mansfield Rule is modeled after the Rooney Rule that was adopted by the National Football League to increase diversity in team leadership. The Rooney Rule requires that there be at least one diverse candidate in the candidate pool for any NFL team manager and coach opening.
The Mansfield Rule takes the same approach, but includes all of the positions in law firms where power is wielded: the chair position, executive committee membership, compensation committee membership, practice group leaders, and office managing partners, as well as new lateral partner hires. At the Hackathon, the proposed Rule required that the candidate pool for each of these positions include at least one woman. The Rule has since evolved to track and measure that the candidate pool include at least 30% women and/or minorities. The change to 30% was made based on recent research that demonstrates it is important to interview more than one diverse candidate. The Rule does not require that the women or diverse candidates be selected for the position or committee, but they must at least be considered.
Why does this work? Because it raises the visibility of qualified lawyers who might not otherwise be noticed and prevents firms from falling into the trap of repeatedly giving leadership jobs to the same one or two members of underrepresented groups.
Some may think this sounds like the “binders of women” that Mitt Romney supposedly used to bring more diversity to his administration – a revelation that caused many of us to express outrage at the necessity of such a crutch. But upon reflection, Romney’s recognition that he was not able to independently identify women who were qualified to work in high level positions in his administration was a sad but truthful admission.
So, like the binders of women, the Mansfield Rule acknowledges, but doesn’t excuse, the lack of visibility of qualified women and minorities. It puts them right in the forefront of the selection process for firm leadership. And it has the collateral effect of encouraging firms to start identifying and nurturing potential candidates for these positions earlier in their careers, so that the firm will have a pipeline of qualified women/minorities – allowing them to meet the requirements of the Mansfield Rule.
This type of organized and thoughtful approach to the candidates who will assume leadership positions in the firm not only increases visibility and opportunities, but also forces the firm to be more intentional in its development of future leaders. And it allows women who have received leadership training to utilize that training by actually moving into a leadership position in the firm.
Several AmLaw firms have committed to a one-year pilot of the Mansfield Rule. Will it make a difference? It should. Because we know that there are plenty of women out there who are more than qualified to be in positions of leadership in their firms. This rule shines a light on them and properly puts the focus on fixing the system, not the women.
For additional details, check out the press release, which lists the participating law firms and the in-house legal departments supporting this inaugural ground-breaking initiative.
About the Author
Learn more about actions that have impact in Pat’s chapter in the new book, “Beyond Bias: Unleashing the Potential of Women in Law,” coming in June 2017 from ARK Group Law Books.
Pat (Patricia) Gillette is one of the country’s leading experts on gender diversity and equality in the workplace. As a top rated trial lawyer and leading author, Ms. Gillette’s illustrious career has focused on solving the most critical business issues of Fortune 500 clients by strategizing and implementing paradigm shifts in company culture and management. Because Ms. Gillette is herself a successful business person, rising to the top levels of management in the firms and companies for whom she has worked, she speaks with authority and conviction to all levels of employees, from CEOs to sales people to managers. Contact her at Pat@PatriciaGillette.com. Visit her website to learn more.