This article appeared in the August 1999 publication of
'Diversity & the Bar', the magazine of the
Minority Corporate Counsel
Association. The article was submitted by Lisa M. Passante, Esq.,
E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., Gretchen A. Bender, Esq., Morris James
Hitchens & Williams, and Suzi Pomerantz, Innovative Leadership
Creating the DuPont Women Lawyers' Network
Women's group is catalyst for
dynamic corporations are committed to the core values of diversity and valuing
people. Business is so competitive that no company can afford to overlook
half of the population. Corporations and law firms can not survive
without the creativity and new thinking that diverse teams ensure. The
challenge is in effectively attaining diversity goals by developing substantive
legal, leadership and management skills in populations that have historically
been overlooked by the legal community. For example, how do corporations
guarantee that women's accomplishments are publicly recognized, particularly
when women and men seem to have different approaches to self-promotion?
How do we help outside counsel develop into the rainmakers and managers law
firms need to compete? How can the profession increase the number of
women in positions of general counsel, associate general counsel, managing
partner, executive committee member and CEO?
Women Lawyers' Network, a join effort between women in-house and
|"By coming together women's diverse voices are
counsel dedicated to the development and advancement of women leaders in both
the corporation and the law firm, offers a new approach. The Women
Lawyers' Network grew out of DuPont's highly publicized legal model. In
what was then termed "convergence," DuPont reduced its number of outside law
firms from nearly 350 to approximately 35. Outside law firms (known as
primary law firms or PLFs) were selected on the basis of a number of criteria,
including competence, results, technology and diversity efforts. The PLFs
have designated geographic areas, so that competition among them is
minimal. With DuPont's help, the PLFs market to each other and jointly
market the PLF firms and the DuPont Legal Model.
effort to increase the leadership of women lawyers within the DuPont Legal
Model, DuPont attorney Lisa Passante, with the assistance of Felice Wagner of
Sales and Service Solutions and Suzi Pomerantz, led a two day Conference on
Women and the Practice of Law for DuPont. The 1998 conference, attended
by approximately 140 in-house and outside women, was an overwhelming
success. The speakers were inspiring and the discussion among attendees
free-flowing. Best of all, by coming together, women's diverse voices
were heard without interruption or condescension. With the tension of
communicating in a man's world eliminated, the energy of the group increased
ten-fold. At least for those two days, attendees realized that if they
lost their fear of supporting each other, women could progress
exponentially. Perhaps the words of Gloria Steinem, from her
book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (Henry Holt and Company,
Inc., 1995) sum things up best: "If you travel around this country, you
can't miss it: In the '80s and '90s, networking is what
consciousness-raising was to the seventies. It's the primary way women
discover that we are not crazy, the system is. We also discover that
mutual support groups can create change where the most courageous individual
woman could not."
As a result
of the conference, the DuPont Women Lawyers' Network was born. The
network has a three person leadership team consisting of founders Passante,
Pomerantz and Gretchen Bender, and five steering committees: marketing,
networking, mentoring, communication and promoting women (dealing with issues
such as compensation and fair measure). The goal is to positively impact
the business of DuPont by promoting legal excellence through the success,
development and professional advancement of the women lawyers representing
DuPont. In short, the women lawyers at DuPont and its primary law firms
have joined together to collectively network, market, mentor and advance the
careers of women lawyers. This effort is fully supported and encouraged
by DuPont's top management, and has been overwhelmingly embraced by a majority
of DuPont's primary law firms.
the organization is in its infancy, it has achieved some positive
results. It has designed a women lawyers' directory; the group
distributes a monthly
|"In the '80s and '90s, networking is what
consciousness-raising was to the 70s."
that publicizes the achievements of its members; and in-house lawyer Tamera
Fair has organized popular monthly meetings about career development issues for
in-house women. The network is beginning to study gender bias in lawyer
evaluations at the primary law firms, and it is planning a dynamic 1999
conference to keep the spirit and enthusiasm going.
Obviously, not every in-house corporate department has a formalized
network of lawyers from which to build. DuPont created a women's network
out of an existing mixed-gender organization, so can other corporations.
It may take some courage to be the first to organize a women's network in your
firm or your in-house department, but once you do, you will not be alone in
your enthusiasm. Of course, there are professional women's networks that
already exist, such as the ABA's Commission on Women in the Profession or the
ABA Women Rainmakers. While these networks are invaluable, support women
in your own organizations, who already have common ground, is critical.
Women's networks support, encourage, nurture and create a whole new array of
business and leadership development opportunities for their members.
Through joint effort with your business partners and other existing networks,
you can exponentially increase your efforts to promote women and minorities in
your companies and your law firms.