Women who have the will to succeed, as reflected in the Ashley Hall motto, have the ability to succeed. However, will and ability must be coupled with mentoring. Providing women with integral skills, guidance, role models, and opportunity is critical.
Mentoring begins with teaching. Rigorous education is essential to creating women who will be successful. In the law, we must teach our attorneys, not only through formal training sessions, but also in daily practice. Training is comprised of hard work and often long hours, but without a solid knowledge of their practice areas, attorneys, and particularly women attorneys, will not become successful.
In addition to skills, women need guidance in solving problems, making choices, and understanding the rules. Each organization has its own rules, which are often unwritten. Helping women comprehend these rules is essential. Guidance also includes fostering a sense of commonality of goals and support among women. Women also need role models who serve in positions of leadership and power within their firms. Unfortunately, the average number of women partners remains around 16% or 17%, and partnership per se does not equate to power.
The most essential part of mentoring, however, is opportunity. I attended a girls’ school, Ashley Hall, and a women’s college, Mount Holyoke, which provided a very empowering beginning. After teaching Latin for several years, I attended the University of South Carolina Law School, where I was honored to be selected as executive editor of the Law Review and to clerk for a South Carolina judge after my second year of law school. After graduation, I began practicing with a Wall street law firm. I had the will and the ability, but in those days, women often did not have the guidance, role models, or opportunity. For me, it took only one person whose generosity provided the opportunity for success. I consider myself to be very lucky.
We who have had these opportunities should make them available to other qualified women. It takes only one person to make a difference. Each of us can choose to be that one person. Open the door!