How Brownstein is Flipping the Script on Women in Law
Plus, tips on how your company can implement new and inclusive programs
Across states, businesses and industries, employees are asking for better from their employers. Better diversity, better benefits, better equality, better opportunities — the list goes on and on. And within some industries, gender discrimination and inequality reaches back through time and tradition. Law was traditionally seen as one such industry; where women’s peak child-rearing and -raising years coincided with the years they would be up for partner.
However, this is starting to change with law firms and partners changing their practices and benefits around gender equality, family and diversity. One such law firm starting the change is the Denver-based Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck law firm.
Over recent years, Brownstein has kicked off a number of programs, practices and groups to shift the dialogue around women in law and around raising families while practicing law. The firm was recently named one of the top 60 law firms for women and ranked as No. 5 on the 2019 American Law Female Equity Scorecard, which ranks 200 firms based on the portion of their equity partnership that is women.
“We've always had a view that our diverse workforce is our strength and we’re younger than many other firms and so that entrepreneurialism, that flexibility has always given us the freedom to chart our own path,” says Ali Metzl, a shareholder at Brownstein. “You could put aside whether it's the right thing or the wrong thing to do, the statistical data is so clear now that diverse work forces produce the best results.”
What Is Brownstein Doing?
One of the primary ways that the firm is building gender equality is with the formation of its Women Leadership Initiative in 2014, which has led the firm to launch a number of practices and platforms.
On such avenue is its mentorship and sponsorship programs that function across departments and across seniority. “Mentorship is about building relationships broadly,” says Metzl. “Sponsorship is a different philosophy, it takes more expending of political capital on someone’s behalf for their benefit.”
She adds that its mentoring takes place in group settings to create more points of connection, where women can connect to multiple women who have grown their careers and practices. Sponsorship, while encouraged, is something that happens naturally.
In addition, it hosts speakers on professional development as well as skill development opportunities and programs for women and men to hone their skills in the areas of negotiation, public speaking, business plan development, silencing implicit bias and more. Externally, it also hosts networking and community engagement events through the leadership initiative.
“I think you get the best from your women when you allow them to be authentic, and I think that's what we've been trying to do,” Metzl says. “There is always an emphasis on developing your skill set, developing a book of business, developing your professional persona and designing some programs to help women do that, but do it in a way that's authentic to them and in a way that harnesses their individualized strengths.”
The firm has also expanded its benefits programs, which it calls “Transitions Matter,” to more adequately serve its employees during the transitionary period of working after childbirth, pregnancy and adoption. While this encompasses both its male and female employees, this is primarily meant to serve this period of time that was traditionally a difficult time for women in law. "The time that you are up for partner frequently coincides with your child bearing and young child raising years," Metzl says.
Some of these benefits include reduced billable hours coming back from leave so there’s a ramp-up period without impact to the employee’s compensation or advancement; a reduced and alternative work policy; an online training module that prepares people to reintegrate into the workforce after having a child; a new parental-leave policy; and more.
“My experience is that you always get more than you give and so allowing that level of flexibility and autonomy in a way to customize a work arrangement around family and other priorities, always generates an incredibly motivated, productive, successful employee on our part,” says Rich Benenson, managing partner at Brownstein. Benenson also says that this helps the firm retain these successful employees, but that it’s really about “enabling folks to do their jobs in that way really drives intrinsic motivation.”
What Your Business Can Do
If your business is looking to implement similar practices, but doesn’t know where to start, Metzl says that “the place to start is understanding your own organization.” Identify and understand who your company is, what you’re doing already and what your values are.
Then, start to define the programs that address the issues personal to your company. “You do have to understand your starting place and your own dynamics so you can design plans that are tuned to what your employee base wants and needs,” Metzl says.
In order for these programs to take off and find success, it starts with real buy-in from leadership and an ambassador that is articulate and passionate to carry the ball on the initiatives, Benenson says.
“It has to be a continuous conversation that involves recruiting, that involves compensation, that involves promotions, that involves staffing models and pitch opportunities, and client assignments and responsibilities,” he says. “You know when you have this kind of perspective and priority in conversation permeate the enterprise at various levels, then you're in a position to actually make some change and do some good.”
Overall, Metzl and Benenson advise to just jump right in, because diversity and inclusion is better business. “Diverse companies make better decisions, better profitability, they outperform their competitors, they’re more innovative, they're more successful in recruiting talent,” Benenson says.