The Enduring Importance of Role Models

Inspiration can be found all around us—in books, newspapers, and even our smartphones. We are constantly being inundated with images and information that shapes our philosophies, outlook, and actions. Influence also comes from friends, family, and professional colleagues. For women lawyers, studies show that having strong role models and mentors, of both genders, is critical to their success.

In my career, I am fortunate to have been inspired and guided by individuals who were committed to helping me become the best lawyer I could be, while teaching me to navigate law firm life as a woman of color. These role models, mentors, sponsors, and supporters were, fortunately, not hard to find, as I have always welcomed and sought out the input of others. My role models have also encouraged me to embrace the next generation of lawyers to ensure that women from all backgrounds, who aspire to become leaders in law firms, corporate legal departments, the public sector, or bar associations are not limited by structural challenges, unfair perceptions, or personal doubt.

According to a recent ABA study, more women are enrolling in law school than men, which is having a significant impact on the legal profession. For example, women often represent 50 percent or more of attorneys in private law firms. Despite this encouraging increase, women still only represent 20 percent or less of the leadership in law firms. I am optimistic, however, that as more women join the legal profession, the number of women who serve as leaders and role models in this field that has been so rewarding to me, will continue to grow.

Individuals who have touched my life also have stressed the importance of “horizontal leadership,” which focuses on teamwork and common goals. My philosophy is that leadership has less to do with titles and more to do with ensuring that everyone feels part of a team that is working together for the common good. From my mother, who prioritized her family and a full-time career my entire life, to the first African American female judge in Minnesota, for whom I clerked, to the women and men I work with every day at my current law firm, who provide me with unyielding support—the influence of mentors has inspired and motivated me to challenge myself and others to reach for the stars and bring others along!