Women in Leadership at the Southern Illinois University School of Law

By Cindy G. Buys & Eugena A. Whitson-Owen

The Southern Illinois University School of Law hosted its sixth annual Women in Leadership (WIL) Workshop on January 14-15, 2016. The program focuses on preparing law students to be leaders while also learning about challenges women face within the legal profession. Professors Alice Noble-Allgire and Cindy Buys decided to create the program in 2010 to address the lack of women lawyers in leadership positions despite the fact that women have been attending law school in almost equal numbers to men for the past few decades. As of 2014, women still only comprise 34% of practicing attorneys overall, and 20% of law firm partners, Fortune 500 general counsel, and law school deans. See 1 American Bar Association, A Current Glace at Women in the Law (July 2014), available here.

A total of 32 current SIU School of Law students, including 9 male students, participated in this year’s WIL Workshop with topics that include gender and communication, gender and negotiation, building a book of business, networking, gender issues in the workplace, and balancing career and family, running for elected office, and developing a leadership plan.

The Workshop is very interactive. It features law school faculty, alumni, attorneys, and judges participating in lectures, small group discussions, simulations, group exercises, and panel discussions. For example, during the negotiation session, students are provided a brief introduction into negotiation theory as well as information from the book, Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, which helps explain gender differences in negotiation. Students are then placed into small groups and given a hypothetical scenario in which a recent law school graduate is negotiating for her salary and benefits at her first job. Several attorneys who are partners in local law firms volunteer their time to engage in a mock salary and benefits negotiation with the students. The whole group then reconvenes and debriefs the exercise.

The session on running for office featured Illinois Representative Terri Bryant and former Lt. Governor Sheila Simon sharing their experiences running for office. They talked about some of the challenges female candidates face, especially when it comes to fundraising as much as their male counterparts. They also talked about ways to develop leadership roles within their respective parties, including the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership and the Illinois Lincoln Excellence in Public Service Series. Judge Carolyn Smoot also inspired the students with her story of her career path, which led to her appointment to the bench in the First Circuit.

Students also took a Myers-Briggs personality assessment prior to the workshop and learned about their personality preferences. They learned how to use that knowledge to help them understand how they react to different stimuli and to others at school, work, and home, and to recognize areas of strength and areas that may need some improvement. Students also engaged in a values exercise and were encouraged to develop a multi-part leadership plan that reflects their values.

As part of WBAI’s initiative to become more of a state-wide association with members throughout Illinois, Former WBAI President Eugena (“Gena”) Whitson-Owen (2014-2015) traveled to Southern Illinois University to participate in the workshop in a panel discussion with other female attorneys on Work-Life Balance. Gena also had the opportunity to speak with SIU’s law students about the advantages of membership in the WBAI, including the WBAI’s networking and mentoring programs and leadership opportunities.

The two-day workshop culminated with a networking dinner celebrating women attorneys on Friday featuring Gloria Farha Flentje as keynote speaker. Ms. Flentje, a member of SIU Law’s charter class of 1976, is recognized as one of the most effective women leaders in the aerospace industry. After serving for more than 20 years as a partner in one of Kansas’s premier law firms, she moved to Boeing as chief counsel. She then served as Senior Vice President of Spirit AeroSystems, a large international firm with over 13,000 employees and facilities all over the world.

The program was supported, in part, by Kaplan, Themis, and Bloomberg.

Buys headshot

Cindy G. Buys, Professor of Law and Director of International Law Programs, is the creator of the annual Women in Leadership (WIL) Workshop at The Southern Illinois University School of Law. Professor Buys joined the SIU School of Law faculty in 2001. She teaches International Law, International Business Transactions, Constitutional Law, Immigration Law, and a variety of other international law courses.


Eugena (“Gena”) Whitson-Owen, former WBAI President (2014-2015), is a trial attorney at the Law Offices of Kurt E. Olsen, an in-house counsel firm for Zurich Insurance Company, where she specializes in the defense of complex litigation matters involving construction and product liability on behalf of Zurich’s insured clients.

This article originally appeared in the WBAI Winter 2016 Newsletter.