On April 27-29, the Center for Women in Law convened 150 women leaders in the legal profession for an unprecedented examination of power and leadership. Law school deans, general counsel, federal and state judges, members of law firm management, and government officials attended the Center’s 2011 Women’s Power Summit on Law and Leadership, marking the second time women leaders gathered in Austin to address issues of vital importance to women lawyers.
“The inaugural Women’s Power Summit in 2009 launched the Austin Manifesto, a blueprint for achieving parity in the legal profession,” explained Linda Bray Chanow, the Executive Director of the Center for Women in Law. “The 2011 Women’s Power Summit built upon the historic work of the 2009 Summit by providing a venue for serious dialogue on how women lawyers can use their individual and collective power to achieve the goals articulated in the Manifesto.”
To eliminate the barriers that have thwarted the advancement of women for decades, the Austin Manifesto set forth a clear set of goals for each sector of the legal profession. One component of the Manifesto included a pledge by the participants to identify goals and timetables that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and trackable. The Austin Manifesto expressed the participants’ commitment to take steps to achieve a minimum of 30% women equity partners, tenured law professors and general counsel by 2015; and to achieve no less than 10% equity partners who are women of color by 2020.
One of the pledges of the Manifesto was to urge the President to nominate more women to the federal bench, including the United States Supreme Court. Coincidentally, at the conclusion of the 2009 Summit, Summit participants learned that Justice Souter had announced his plans to retire from the Court. Acting immediately on that pledge, the Center sent a letter to President Obama signed by Summit attendees urging him to appoint a woman to replace Justice Souter. The Center also facilitated a campaign for individual letters to the President.
In her rousing opening remarks, 2011 Power Summit Chair Roberta Liebenberg, a Philadelphia attorney and Chair of the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Professionrecounted the impact of the first collective action taken pursuant to the Austin Manifesto: “Our voices and the voices of millions of other American women were heard as Justice Sotomayor was nominated and confirmed. As we gather here today, one-third of the Supreme Court is now women.”
Ms. Liebenberg went on to state that the less encouraging statistics for other sectors of the legal profession necessitated continued efforts pursuant to the Austin Manifesto: “[T]he glass ceiling still looms over us.” She explained that, “Over the last 10 years, the percentages of women general counsel and women partners both equity and non-equity have remained virtually flat” and cited “the “inverse pyramid at law firms” that shows “the higher up you look at every level of the law firm pyramid, the smaller percentage of women you find.” Proclaiming that, “This is simply not acceptable in the 21st Century,” she called on 2011 Summit participants to “exercise their power to transform other sectors of the profession for ourselves and for future generations of women leaders.”
Throughout the three day Summit, four keynote speakers provided illuminating perspectives on leadership, power, and legacy to inspire and facilitate continued action by Summit participants. Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and author of Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t, shared his view of ways people obtain, use, and maintain power in organizations. Patricia Sellers, Editor at Large at Fortune, explored power from her perspective as a leading journalist who has written about powerful women for years, and who co-chairs the annual Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit.
Gloria Feldt challenged participants to move beyond an outdated concept of “Power over” others, which defines power as a finite pie. The best-selling author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, Feldt stressed that by defining power more inclusively – for example, as a way to solve problems and achieve innovation – power can be seen as an infinite resource.
Colonel Linda Strite Murnane (U.S. Air Force, Retired), the Chief of Court Management and Support Services for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague captured the issues of power and legacy in a stirring speech which described the often overwhelming odds she faced throughout her military career. In recounting heartbreaking stories of courage and perseverance, Linda asked each attendee to adopt as their personal Legacy Motto: “There is no such thing as Can’t.”
Woven among the keynote presentations were panels of prominent lawyers, scholars, CEOs, and thoughtleaders that examined leading research and provided examples of how women exercise power in both business and legal settings.
Panelist Lawdragon CEO Katrina Dewey captured the enthusiasm of Summit attendees, “The Power Summit was a truly extraordinary experience – one that elevates the dialogue well above anything I have previously experienced.” Similarly, Susan Blount (Class of ’81), General Counsel of Prudential Financial, Inc. and a Founding Member of the Center, observed “The Power Summit was a huge success at so many levels. It was thought provoking and cohesive. It was inspirational and informative. It provided wonderful opportunities for extending our networks. And it will make a difference for women in our profession.”
The Center will release a white paper capturing the discussions and outcomes of the 2011 Women’s Power Summit this summer. The Center’s next Women’s Power Summit will be held in 2013. For more information, visit centerforwomeninlaw.org.
Visit the 2011 Women’s Power Summit page.