by Kathryn Conway, WBAI Director
Over 350 people gathered in the grand ballroom of the Hotel Allegro on November 5, 2015 to celebrate the 2015 Top Women Lawyers in Leadership (TWLIL) Award recipients. The 2015 honorees included Karina Ayala-Bermejo, General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Metropolitan Family Services and Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society; Deane B. Brown, Partner at Hughes Socol Piers Resnick Dym, Ltd.; Michele M. Jochner, Partner at Schiller, DuCanto & Fleck, LLP; Andrea S. Kramer, Partner at McDermott, Will, & Emery, LLP; Susan L. Novosad, Partner at Levin & Perconti; Ann M. Spillane, Chief of Staff at the Office of the Illinois Attorney General; and Monica M. Weed, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Navigant Consulting, Inc.
Attendees enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres prior to the main event, which was a compilation of videotaped interviews of each of the award winners and those who nominated them. Each nominator explained why each woman was deserving of the Top Leadership Award, while the honorees provided insight and feedback into what qualities are important in a leader, why leadership is especially important and necessary for women, and tips for young lawyers just starting out in their careers.
Each of the awardees reflected on the fact that women in leadership are truly lacking, especially in the legal profession. While more and more women are graduating from law school and joining the profession, only a small proportion have attained high levels of leadership. As Deane Brown commented, that means that young women are not able to see examples of women leaders in the work force. Instead, they see men owning those positions.
One of the obstacles to obtaining these higher levels of leadership is that women do not tend to feel the same innate confidence and urge to take on unfamiliar projects and opportunities that men feel. As Andie Kramer put it, “Women feel that if we’re not 110% ready or have already done [something], then we don’t raise our hands for new assignments, for new projects, for new opportunities,” whereas men are volunteering and taking on new opportunities at about 70%. But, as Karina Ayala- Bermejo reminded attendees, “you are never truly ready,” so if you wait until you feel ready, you may miss your opportunity. And, fear of the unknown can be a great motivator, explained Monica Weed. The trick is to find a way to harness that fear and use it to our advantage. Michele Jochner suggested that women need to ask for what we want and not to expect that opportunities will be presented to us. Rather, we have to seek out those opportunities and make clear what we want.
Susan Novosad explained that she tries to teach her firm’s young female lawyers that they don’t have to be like a man in order to succeed. Rather, you can be aggressive, smart, and work hard and still be yourself. Anne Spillane, the first female Chief of Staff to the Attorney General, agreed, saying that women have different styles in the work place that often lead to greater collaboration and understanding. She reminded attendees that hard work and preparedness are essential characteristics in a leader while Deane Brown, a former President of the WBAI, encouraged aspiring leaders to be good listeners. Karina Ayala-Bermejo said that women should work to develop grit, confidence, and a mindset wherein they are open to growth and the unknown. Monica Weed highlighted that a leader needs to have the trust and respect of their colleagues or else no one will be willing to follow her.
A thank you to our generous event sponsors, Jensen Litigation Solutions for producing the video, the co-chairs of the event, Liz Winiarski, Lauren Tuckey Murray and Kate Conway, and to their committee members Jennifer Bekkerman, Margaret Battersby Black, Jennifer Donahue, Bethany Whittles Harris, Ryan Kelly, Courtney Lindbert, Kristen Lukaszak, Kristine Reveille, Alejandra Rodriguez, Erin Rogozinski, and Nicole Schroeder, as well as a special thank you to Monique Austin, our WBAI Executive Director.
This article originally appeared in the WBAI 2015-2016 Winter Newsletter.
Kathryn “Kate” Conway is an attorney at the plaintiff’s personal injury law firm of Power Rogers & Smith.
Thank You to the Sponsors of the 2015 Top Women Lawyers in Leadership Awards Reception