Earning any advanced degree is a tremendous accomplishment. But while higher education is often a prerequisite in today’s job market, women need more than formal schooling if they are to succeed in greater numbers. They need informal, internal education that includes visibility into organizational dynamics, including the political landscape of their workplace. As important as knowing what to do is how to get it done. With work experience, that internal education can transform women employees into leaders.
Finding a sponsor and learning from that person is essential to career advancement. I’ve been lucky enough to have two at Kirkland & Ellis. One is a senior private equity partner and now the chairman of our global management committee. The other is co-head of our restructuring practice who is also a member of the firm’s global management committee. Both are men.
My sponsors placed tremendous faith in my abilities and gave me opportunities to shine with key clients. They promoted me internally at Kirkland. And importantly, they have been generous with their time and counsel in ways that have allowed me to gain insight into firm management matters much more quickly than if I was learning on my own.
The guidance I have received from them has made me passionate about helping younger lawyers to succeed by providing them opportunities to grow professionally and personally, and giving them support and encouragement as their careers progress. I was one of the founders of the Kirkland Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI), which provides training and networking opportunities for women attorneys. I have worked hard with other women leaders to expand WLI’s scope and reach to our ten offices around the world. WLI has been a valuable resource in recruiting and retaining talented women. The focus of much of our programming is giving our women that “inside scoop” that helps them become more attuned to the organizational particulars of Kirkland.
Businesses need to find more ways to facilitate and reward these sponsorship relationships that will help talented, well-educated women gain insight into the internal landscape within their organization and allow them to translate their great ideas into reality. Only then will more women get the leadership recognition necessary for more broad-based advancement.