Fall 2016

    By: Leslie Richards-Yellen on Nov 30, 2016

    As NAWL President, I’m delighted – and extremely proud – that after 117 years, this wonderful organization of ours is more vital than ever – more committed than ever to advancing all women in the legal profession. Strongly woven into the very fiber of our organization is the tradition of women standing firmly for each other’s success.

    NAWL has been a dynamic organization since before women could vote. Its legacy has been assured by the leadership provided by an unbroken line of strong women leaders. Marsha Anastasia, our immediate past president, is one of the most gifted of these leaders. Although Marsha has a huge job as vice president, deputy general counsel – The Americas for Pitney Bowes, she works unceasingly towards gender equality. She is a visionary extraordinaire, organizer in chief, unabashed promoter of other women and a dear friend. Marsha is the epitome of the leader you look up to and trust as she has worked to make NAWL an even stronger organization.

    And, of course, I have to thank Marsha’s husband, Roger, and their children, Lauren, Eva and Nathan, for graciously sharing Marsha’s time and talents with NAWL.

    And while we are thanking wonderful people, I want to thank my own wonderful family for understanding the time it will take and applauding the result that we know it will create.

    A few months ago, during NAWL’s Atlanta program, I was thrilled by how our members are becoming proficient with the tools in their proverbial toolkits. Participants actually worked together and built a bridge that linked them together. The breakout group was a brilliant microcosm of the wide range of talents, passion, and commitment of our members. The lawyers at my table included millennials new to practice, seasoned practitioners seeking capital partnership, a managing partner of a law firm and a woman who had recently restarted her career. I was struck by how each woman used her unique perspective to enrich the conversation.

    As I think about women leading by example and helping each other, my mother is the first person that pops into my head. She was a social worker, not a lawyer. But her personal integrity, compassion, tireless commitment to her clients and to her community taught me everything I needed to know, not only about being a lawyer, but about the importance of contributing to society as a whole. I’m extremely lucky to have been the beneficiary of that powerful commitment to make a difference!

    There’s another wonderful woman, Professor Sheri Lynn Johnson, the winner of the 2016 M. Ashley Dickerson Diversity Award, who used the tools and experience she possessed to provide immeasurable and much needed support for me while I was in law school. Her unwavering belief in me helped tremendously when I questioned whether I actually “fit into” the legal world. She gave me the gift of her time, to share what she’d learned, an ear to listen to my hopes and dreams, doubts and fears and her heart to encourage me when I might have lost mine.

    Thanks to my mother and Professor Johnson and their unforgettable examples of commitment, will and courage, I was able to become a finance attorney – and to deliver on my commitments as Hinshaw & Culbertson’s chief diversity and inclusion officer.

    The legacy of women standing for each other begins with NAWL’s suffragettes! They used their skills to advance effective strategies – whether it was marching under a blazing sun to support suffrage in front of an unsympathetic crowd – or by participating in hunger strikes evolving to NAWL working to address the unique challenges of our sisters in the minority and LBTQI communities.

    There is an image of NAWL suffragettes taken in 1913 that resonates deeply with me. There are three central women in the image – dressed in stark, black robes. Wearing academic robes seems to be a strategy to force the world to acknowledge their professional status. These three remarkable women look straight into the camera, as if to size you up, with eyes that boldly hold your gaze and affirm their power – despite the span of 100 years.

    Their unsmiling, determined faces make you reflect upon how much their efforts cost them on a professional – and personal – level. Their expressions reveal the acceptance that, although they will not reap the rewards of their efforts, nothing will keep them from continuing on their challenging path. Nothing. The only acknowledgement these women demand is that you become one of them – and use the tools you have to finish the job of advancing women under the law. Every subsequent generation of NAWL leaders – every one of us – seeks to be worthy of these magnificent women.

    The torch that passed to us in 1913 is blazing – and melting away the lingering residue of history that would impede the ascendance of women in the law. The task that falls to us is to maintain the sense of urgency and energy that infused the suffragette movement by reimagining their protest in 21st century terms.

    NAWL uses contemporary, as well as time-honored strategies. These include the NAWL “One-Third by 2020 Challenge” to increase the number of women in leadership positions; the “NAWL Challenge Club,” which connects corporations with talented women on track for equity partnership; and the “NAWL Survey” which holds the legal profession accountable for advancing gender diversity, while also highlighting the best practices to achieve our goal.

    There is a strong business case for gender equality! Many women collaborate to broaden the prospects of the organizations that employ them to nurture relationships and to have unique networks. Let me say it in a different way: in the words of our fabulous immediate past president, “women make things better.”

    There is much to celebrate. We can affirm that achieving gender equality is a realistic goal! Women got to this point by individually and collectively using the instruments at hand to make little – and big – changes. Women got to this point by using our muscle and grit to work toward changing institutions and laws. Women got to this point because our daughters and sons have been willing to stand with us, and carry the suffragette’s torch when we are no longer able. Women got to this point by collaborating with talented, enlightened men who help us challenge the gender status quo.

    Will you join us? Will you use the tools at your disposal – whether it’s sponsoring NAWL, joining the “NAWL Challenge Club,” or working to increase the prospects and promotion of women in your organization? Or all three?

    In 2016, unlike 1913, many of the indifferent onlookers joined the parade and the blazing sun has softened. At this moment in time, many more men and organizations are eager to play a part and swell the inevitable tide that will rush in to propel women to equality.

    Will your deeds earn a spot for you at the joyous celebration that will be held at the end of the parade? Will you be there when women and men of all ages, races, sexual orientations and different abilities and disabilities install the suffragette’s torch at the monument that marks the end of the old world and the beginning of the new world – a world in which gender equality is a cornerstone?

    I have no doubt you will.

    Released: November 30, 2016, 2:28 pm | Updated: February 22, 2017, 12:20 pm
    Keywords: President's Message

    About this Blog

    President's Message

    Quarterly Message from NAWL's President

    National Association of Women Lawyers®

    American Bar Center MS 17.1, 321 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654
    T: 312.988.6186   F: 312.932.6450