Roberta Liebenberg is a partner at Fine, Kaplan, Black R.P.C. She has dedicated a lifetime to furthering the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.
She is Chair of Direct Women and the former Chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. In 2016, she was awarded the Margaret Brent Award for professional excellence. Roberta is also a member of the Global Advisory Board for Global Law Focus.
In this article, Roberta shares her views on inclusive leadership, sustaining gender diversity and what she would so if she was President for the day.
TOP 3 TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL INCLUSIVE LEADERSHIP IN A LAW FIRM
1) There must be a clear message from the Chair, CEO or other leaders of law firms that diversity and inclusiveness are paramount goals of the firm, benchmarks will be established, progress will be measured, and there will be accountability for a failure to meet these goals, as well as rewards if targets are met.
2) Implement implicit bias training so all lawyers can learn to understand how unconscious stereotyping can impact women, attorneys of colour, LGBTQ attorneys, and attorneys with disabilities in their recruitment, assignments, evaluations, compensation and promotions.
3) The Executive Committee and other firm management committees must be diverse and include more than a token diverse lawyer. The absence of meaningful numbers of diverse attorneys in a firm sends a powerful message about how committed the firm is to inclusiveness. When diverse attorneys are on the Executive Committee, head practice groups, and are responsible for large books of business, younger associates see role models and a path for them to succeed at a firm.
HOW SENIOR WOMEN LEADERS CAN HELP THE NEXT GENERATION
I believe it is very important for women who have achieved success to pay it forward by mentoring and sponsoring younger women to help them advance in their careers.
You can champion women by assigning them to significant matters; referring business to them; sponsoring them for membership or leadership positions in professional, civic and community organisations; and helping them increase their profile by inviting them to write an article or speak at a seminar or conference. My own career benefitted from having wonderful sponsors, and in turn I have personally derived enormous satisfaction by serving as a sponsor for many women lawyers, both younger women and my contemporaries. I have taken great pride in the development of a new generation of women leaders who will pick up the mantle of advocating for equality in the profession. As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has so aptly observed, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I am optimistic about the future, given the many committed lawyers I encounter who are working to make the profession more diverse and inclusive.
IF I WAS PRESIDENT OF THE USA FOR THE DAY, I WOULD…
I would work to ensure the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen the Equal Pay Act by eliminating certain loopholes and amending outdated provisions that have prevented the fulfillment of Congressional intent to eliminate pay discrimination on the basis of sex. Women still earn only 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man. With over 73 million women in the workforce, many of whom are their family’s sole bread winner, pay equity is long overdue and must be a top priority.
Moreover, I would use my Presidential power to implement policies to require paid medical and maternity leave and to subsidise the cost of childcare. The United States is the only advanced economy that doesn’t mandate paid sick or maternity leave for its workers. These policies would lead to more equitable sharing of child rearing; ensure that women stay in the workforce; and help ameliorate the wage penalty that working women often encounter. When families succeed, our economy will grow faster and result in increased prosperity for everyone.
ROBERTA LIEBENBERG RECEIVING THE MARGARET BRENT AWARD 2016