Celebrating Women Mentoring Future Women Leaders
As I continue to think about and celebrate Women’s History Month, I feel it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate women's critical role in mentoring and inspiring other women professionally.
I am incredibly proud to share that seven years ago, I had the inspiration for a wholly new event for the female colleagues at my firm called the Blank Rome Women's Leadership Summit. The idea was born when I was early into integrating the firm I built and later moved to Blank Rome LLP. As we merged personnel and cultures, I saw a need for the women partners in our firm, spread across 14 offices across the country, to get to know each other … to really get to know one another!
At that time, I was the most senior woman partner in the Los Angeles office, and there were older women partners back East with whom I wanted to have some kind of connection. The Women’s Leadership Summit was born as a full-blown thought-leadership conference, with the first half solely for the partners and the second half including our clients and prospects who are women in top roles like general counsel, chief legal officer, business owner, head of HR, etc. And of course, when women get together, we have fun!
The type of conference we put on has always been significant to me. I was very intentional in curating the programming and speakers, not to speak down to the participants but instead seeking to inspire and motivate them. We worked hard to avoid the programming making the participants feel less than, which can be way too typical of many conferences. We designed our programming to be much more interactive, with much more naturally encouraged networking, so women can get to know each other and issues that are collectively important to one another. We are in our seventh year this April, and all I can say is “God Bless.”
Mentoring Is Key to Empowerment
There is nothing more important than women helping women as mentors or merely friendly colleagues. We are all too familiar that there is enough competition in this world. It’s now time to encourage more women to take on active mentoring roles for other women.
This topic reminds me of one of my favorite television shows, “The Bold Type.” The show stars my friend Melora Hardin as a powerful yet approachable executive editor of a fashion magazine. Her character is a perfect example of my vision for how to lead. As they say, if you give someone a fish, they will eat for a day, but if you teach them how to fish, they can eat for life! In that show, the editor teaches and shows her young mentees how to problem-solve independently. She embodies solid female traits: poise, strength, character, and humility. These themes genuinely resonate with me and my own leadership and coaching philosophies.
Young talent must respect those with more seniority and commit to learning from them. But those same young women must be able to stick up for themselves and stand up for their own ideas.
Another philosophy I promote is the power of failure. If we try something and fail, we should only accept that as a failure in the moment but not accept it as a failure in the mission. I also believe in teaching young people and mentees how to take the appropriate risks; you must think through them in advance and then step out and take them. Otherwise, life and one’s career will be boring.
It’s not easy to teach someone how to lead. I think you do that best by leading through example. Again, back to “The Bold Type,” the protagonist Jacqueline Carlisle does not tell her young female staff how to solve their problems; instead, she helps them find the solutions. She helps them figure out how to solve their problems by asking them probing questions. It’s always more powerful to ask someone what they think the answer is rather than simply giving it to them. Providing the solution is so much easier but far less impactful. If you keep telling others the answers, they will keep coming to you to solve their problems. And that will become burdensome, and you will not educate them or do them any long-term favors.
All Is Not Fair in Business or Politics
My goal and vision are for a world – in business and politics, in homes and at work – where there is so much demonstrated, fully realized equality that we no longer have to discuss equality. A world with workplaces (schools and homes, too) where everyone is treated equally for what they bring to the table – that, my friends, will be a state of fairness.
But let’s be fair again and honest; one must actually bring something to the table in the discussion of equality. Equality is not being given preferential treatment, either because of your sex, your race, your creed, or, God forbid, your money. Equality is not being given preferential treatment to compensate for wrongs over time. Equality should be a birthright, and when that’s not the case, and it’s been hard fought and earned, it should never be taken away.
I am not so naive to think that all men and women are created and skilled equally. That should never be the case. But I am confident that certain women can lead our country better than some men. Women and their inherent skill sets lead differently, which is precisely what we need now.
I never like to make blanket statements that a woman could do something better than a man or that a man can do this better than a woman. Each of us does different things differently. But I think it is time our country tried something different, like having a woman at the helm to show the benefits she may bring to that seat. Indeed, many countries worldwide have tried and succeeded very well with women leaders.
You may disagree with me, but I would rather see a future woman president than, say, have more women on the Supreme Court or more women in congress. Why is that? Well, the President of the United States is in a truly powerful position where she gets to lead.
On the Supreme Court and, similarly, in Congress, I do not believe decisions are necessarily influenced by sex. You cannot just say that a woman on the Court – or in the Senate or the House of Representatives – would vote a certain way (or not.) Sandra Day O’Connor voted differently than Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and we all know now that Amy Coney Barrett will likely vote differently than Justices Brown Jackson, Kagan, and Sotomayor.
It is fascinating and maddening to me that the world's wealthiest and most influential country still hasn't had a female leader when so many countries have. We have regressed in many ways. But as a woman and a leader, I remain optimistic and expect positive changes toward true equality in our lifetime. After all, if not confidence, isn’t optimism one of our inherently female strengths?