"There's a special place in hell for women who do not help other women."
That was the introduction at the most recent networking event that I attended, and it got a rousing, appreciative response. The remark was made by Nadia Brannon of FTI Consulting, who is also the co-chair of the Business Development Committee for Queen's Bench Bar Association of the Bay Area. Ms. Brannon credited Madeleine Albright as the originator of this quote.
This opening certainly caught everyone's attention.
Ms. Brannon's introduction cut through the usual rhetoric, and light heartedly reminded the women in the room what their role was in creating success not only for themselves but also for other women, and that this event provided them with just that opportunity to help other women.
This event was Queens' Bench's annual networking LEAADD dinner, which stands for Lawyers, Engineers, Accountants, Architects, Doctors and Dentists. "The dinner brings together women from various professions that do not naturally belong to the same organizational networks, exponentially expanding their networks and turning them into influencers and leaders," said Brannon.
Women attorneys are continually looking for innovative ways to increase their networks, and in doing so, are finding that networking with other women professionals can be extremely beneficial.
"According to research, the most successful women have broad and strong connections not only within their networks, but especially outside of their organizations, as well as social and professional networks," says Brannon.
Networking is seen by many as one of those necessary chores that comes along with being a professional. This is especially true for women attorneys, who are still fighting against entrenched systemic inequities in the legal profession. As the National Association of Women Lawyers reported this week, women make up 70% of staff attorneys but only 15% of equity partners in the nation's largest 200 firms.
Building up their network is one way for women to make inroads against the proverbial "old boys club." A network can be invaluable at many stages of a career, whether you are looking for a job, just starting a new position, building up your book of business, or looking to transition to another field. I have also found that a network can be incredibly supportive during times of transition or even simply when you need to commiserate over shared experiences.
At this year's event, the keynote speaker was Belva Davis, noted journalist, who provided insightful comments on her experiences as one of the first female African-American journalists in the Bay Area. As one of the only women on the news when she started her career, she felt she had to prove something to show that she was just as good, like hanging from a construction basket high above the ground when reporting on the construction of a tower. Having no college degree and little training, Ms. Davis learned as she went, overcoming challenges at every turn. She affably and endearingly shared stories of belittling treatment and her resolve to overcome roadblocks placed in her way. She recalled being told that no one would want to hear about female anatomy when she proposed reporting on breast cancer and recommendations for mammograms to support early detection. Though stunned by the comment, she went ahead with the story anyway.
Despite the many hurdles, she seemed to believe all of her experiences made her who she was. Her concluding advice for women: "Don't be afraid of the space between dreams and reality. If you can dream it, make it so."
Apt advice, indeed. As women continue to face obstacles in their legal careers, albeit perhaps less overt than those that faced Ms. Davis, but present all the same, women have opportunities to take matters into their own hands. Events like this demonstrate that women are making it so.