Retaining women lawyers in the profession has been a major problem for law firms in many – if not most- jurisdictions. The attrition rate remains high, the career goals remain unaccomplished and the ladies continue to leave the law, whether they wanted to or not.
Various efforts have been made at different times to address the issue and seek an appropriate remedy to the problem. One firm that has a ‘Women’s Initiative’ is producing positive results.
Christy Crider is an acclaimed health care lawyer and a shareholder in the Nashville office of law firm Baker Donelson. She has now taken over as head of the firm’s Women’s Initiative, focusing upon improving the retention rates for top female lawyers.
The Tennessean spoke with Christy Crider about her role and the struggle to retain top female lawyers in her area of law in Nashville. Her answers, however, apply in many cases to lady lawyers in different areas everywhere.
How did you first get involved in Baker Donelson’s Women’s Initiative?
Fourteen years ago, I was expecting my first child while working here in the Nashville office. I hadn’t told anyone that I was expecting yet, but I asked for a copy of the maternity leave policy. I learned that we did not have one. Up until then, women had taken maternity leave on a case-by-case basis. I decided at that point that I was going to take up that issue, both for personal and professional reasons. So I went and collected information on what other leading law firms in the country were doing, I brought that information to the firm and we drafted a policy that is at the very top of our competition — which is 12 weeks of paid leave. It passed the board unanimously.
You used your own situation to make a firmwide change?
That was very satisfying to me — to identify an issue that would help all women within the firm, gather the information about the best way to accomplish that, take it to our board, explain the rationale and watch that policy benefit so many women within our firm over the last 14 years. Now, within the last year, it began to benefit our men as well.
How has the Women’s Initiative helped men?
One of the accomplishments I’m most proud of is instituting a gender-neutral parental leave policy that allows paid time off for both the primary caregiver and the non-primary caregiver. We also got a statement in the written policy that says taking parental leave will not penalize attorneys when they’re up for shareholder.
That’s interesting — by offering a perk to men, you’re actually supporting women.
Well, gender roles in child care have evolved in the last 10 to 20 years significantly. And in every family, it’s important to have both parents be able to support the children — and each other — as they’re going through having a newborn. As anybody who has a newborn knows, it is not a cakewalk.
For every man who takes parental leave, there is a woman and a child in that household who is benefiting. And I believe that if we support people during critical times like that, we’re building loyalty.
It seems this Women’s Initiative is not so much about fighting flagrant discrimination, but identifying where the status quo is inappropriate.
That’s right. I have found with all of the issues that we have tackled that it has really never been met with the resistance that would be considered discriminatory. It’s just a matter of raising awareness and then being deliberate about the decisions that we’re making.
If your attorneys are not experiencing outright discrimination, what do you say to people who might question why a firm would need a Women’s Initiative?
If you look at the statistics, about 45 percent of associate attorneys nationwide are women. If you look at law schools, they’re also hovering around the 50 percent mark for female students. And yet, year after year, the national statistics are that only about 25 percent of shareholders are women. Now, Baker Donelson beats the national average. But to me, until the number of women who are shareholders closely resembles the number of women who are in law school, we have work to do.
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