President's Message

Serving in the Boardroom

Accomplished women lawyers are corporate America’s most wanted

Posted Jan 4, 2007 7:53 PM CDT
By Karen J. Mathis

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In the next decade, many mature and experienced women lawyers will consider leaving the active practice of law. As America’s corporate boards face the need for independent directors, a select number of these women can bring to business governance independent judgment and a deep understanding of management issues. As the 1,000 largest American corporations fill nearly 12,000 director positions in the next decade, women attorneys leaving positions as corporate general counsel, partners in law firms and officials in government will be a growing source of expertise and independence.

So it is an honor to accord presidential initiative status to the ABA Section of Business Law’s DirectWomen project, which will connect this ready resource of talented female lawyers with this burgeoning need of our nation’s businesses. This innovative initiative prepares women lawyers leaving private practice to serve as directors of major U.S. corporations. The section’s program partner is Catalyst, a research and advisory organization dedicated to advancing women in the workplace.

IDEAS, PEOPLE BEHIND INITIATIVE

DirectWomen benefits from the leadership of its remarkable planning committee, co-chaired by Amelia H. Boss, professor at Temple University School of Law, and Roberta D. Liebenberg, a member of Fine, Kaplan and Black in Philadelphia. Other committee members include Section of Business Law Chair Linda C. Hayman, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York City; Deborah M. Soon, vice president of executive leadership initiatives at Catalyst; and Charna E. Sherman, a partner at Squire Sanders & Dempsey in Cleveland.

DirectWomen accomplishes its objectives by:

• Providing educational and networking opportunities to women attorneys who are leaving the practice of business law and wish to find new ways to make contributions to business. • Reinforcing the value of diversity among corporate boards and reinforcing their understanding of the immeasurable worth of this talented pool of women. • Partnering with recruiting firms and facilitating their access to qualified nominees for independent director positions. • Recognizing women who serve on boards, lead corporate America, and are emblematic of the value of diversity in the boardroom.

DirectWomen is committed to increasing the number of women on public company boards so that directorships more fairly reflect the percentage of women in business. Catalyst reports that women make up half of management, professional and related occupations but represent only 16 percent of Fortune 500 corporate officers and 2 percent of CEOs. The DirectWomen initiative will identify, develop and support women lawyers who can improve these statistics.

A key component of the presidential initiative is the DirectWomen Institute, a three-day seminar that is bringing in seasoned women directors to provide training for senior women lawyers with backgrounds in business law. A selection committee will consider applicants for up to 25 participant slots. The first annual institute will be at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City from March 28 to 30. It will culminate with an awards luncheon honoring many women and the companies on whose boards they serve. The first class of women completing the DirectWomen Institute will also be recognized.

You can help connect the cadre of experienced women lawyers with the corporate boards that desperately need them. Nominate someone—maybe yourself—to participate in the DirectWomen Institute by completing an application before the Feb. 5 deadline. Or support the initiative by becoming a sponsor (complete the form by Feb. 16) or attending the luncheon.

Do it today.

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