It’s Time to Fix the Broken Ladder

I work at the intersection of law and energy, two male-dominated fields. Serving on my firm’s Mentoring Committee and Diversity and Inclusion Committee, I see the challenges women face firsthand. They are vastly different from those faced by their male peers, particularly in retention and advancement. That is, though many firms recruit and hire women at equal percentages to men, they are unable to retain or are unwilling to promote women at even close to the same rate as men. Though not the person to coin this phrase, I have found that much of what makes it difficult for women to reach the highest levels of leadership in the legal industry is not so much a glass ceiling as it is a broken ladder.

The broken ladder issue I most often confront is a misinformed construct of a linear career trajectory. Many of the most talented attorneys I have worked with—both male and female—have not followed traditional career paths. They have worked flexible or reduced schedules to accommodate personal or family needs. They have written books or taken sabbaticals to study things that interest them. They have chosen community leadership over billing more hours. By recognizing that excellent lawyers and leaders do not all look the same or follow any one path, law firms open opportunities to advance more diverse attorneys.

I firmly believe it to be true that each of us has a responsibility to evaluate the ladders in our company, determine if there are broken rungs, and then personally work to fix them. In law firms, these challenges are often things like origination, client development, first-chair experience, and sexual harassment. I have benefited greatly from the committed mentorship, encouragement, and steadfast support of colleagues, male and female alike, who recognized these broken rungs and actively helped me overcome them. I encourage my fellow female, and male, lawyers and leaders to look at their own company ladders and take actionable steps to repair them. With those repairs, we can rise to new levels of leadership.