Minnesota Women Lawyer’s “Big Tent” Diversity As Our Strength

Minnesota Women Lawyers
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Minnesota Women Lawyers (MWL) is an association of more than 1,300 attorneys, judges, law students, legal employers and others who are dedicated to advancing the success of women attorneys and striving for a just society. Since its inception in 1972, MWL has provided opportunities for members to develop as leaders, network with other attorneys, and have an impact on their communities by fostering a greater satisfaction within the profession. MWL continues to address the changing needs of women in the legal profession through initiatives that are guided by our mission and values.

Nearly three years ago MWL set out to “be bold and dig deep” with the creation of its 2015-2018 Strategic Plan. With the work of a dedicated taskforce, MWL sought a cohesive strategy to utilize our resources to make the most impact in the legal community. Our organization had the unique task of not only implementing our foundational strategic goals, but we also recognized we had to remain adaptable to continue meeting the changing needs of our members. We wanted this flexibility to be purposeful and a consistent part of the culture at MWL. We found that drawing from the breadth of diversity in our organization and fostering the receptive and convivial atmosphere MWL has built through the years to be the most effective way to adapt to new goals while serving our operational needs.

As the 2017-2018 MWL president, I hope to achieve these goals by focusing on how MWL can be a “Big Tent.” Women attorneys in the state of Minnesota are diverse in many ways, but we come together because of at least one significant attribute we share in common – our identification as women lawyers. Under that “big tent,” MWL members represent different ethnic and racial backgrounds, career and professional paths, sexual orientations and gender identities, practice areas and types of organizations, geographic locations, and years of experience and generations.

Each of MWL’s chapters, committees, affinity groups, and other leadership entities play an essential role in building our collective voice and making our organization more welcoming and accessible. During the implementation of our 2015-2018 Strategic Plan, many of MWL’s committees were re-organized and renewed to better support our mission. We were able to restructure our organization based on the direct input of our diverse membership. Having many voices represented in how we assessed our goals was crucial to building our organization’s relevancy within the legal community. Continuing to have vibrant and unique opportunities for our members to connect with MWL helped us become more inclusive and, in turn, has helped us assess new ways to adapt and offer even more unique engagement opportunities. The momentum we have built has all come from within, and we help drive that momentum with each new opportunity we can offer.

A vital goal of our 2015-2018 Strategic Plan was to create and implement a diversity and inclusion statement and subsequent action plan. MWL’s collective membership sought a way to not only express why diversity and inclusion are so crucial to achieving our mission, but also having a specific action plan to reach those important goals. The primary objective was to incorporate diversity and inclusion into all aspects of our organization. Having the action plan as a constant touchstone helps us continue to create measureable objectives that move us toward our end-goals.

Taking a critical assessment of diversity and inclusion in all aspects of MWL as an organization has led us to enrich the opportunities we offer and make our organization more significant for women of color, for women in non-traditional practice areas, for women practicing in corporate counsel, and for women of the LGBTQI community. As we began re-organizing our committees, we made it a part of each group’s yearly plan to demonstrate measurable action items to further our diversity and inclusion action plan. This critical assessment has also set in motion new task forces at MWL dedicated to bringing diverse groups together to have frank and honest discussions about what MWL needs to do to truly achieve our diversity and inclusion goals.

MWL’s “Big Tent” focus also applies to our programming. The MWL Annual Conference for Women in the Law held at the end of April every year is an event in which MWL draws from the diversity of our members. This past year, the MWL annual conference committee established a proposal process for speakers, so we could receive programming proposals directly from our members and others outside of the organization. The intent was to hear from across our membership and give members the opportunity to take the lead in directing programming of greatest interest. When we solicited proposals, we received a remarkable response. Again this year, MWL is pleased to offer the same opportunity to our members. This process provides yet another avenue to strengthen the engagement opportunities MWL can provide our members.

Looking ahead, MWL’s 2018 MWL Annual Conference for Women in the Law will be held Friday, April 27, 2017, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Minneapolis. The goals of this daylong event are to collaborate across MWL’s statewide community, provide highvalue programming of interest to our diverse membership, and create meaningful networking opportunities, all in an effort to advance MWL’s mission.

This year, our conference keynote speaker will be Michele Coleman Mayes. Ms. Mayes was appointed vice president, general counsel and secretary at The New York Public Library in 2012. She serves as chief legal officer and is responsible for guiding NYPL’s legal strategy to enable the library to achieve its mission. Before joining The New York Public Library, Mayes was executive vice president and general counsel for the Allstate Corporation. Having previously served as general counsel for Pitney Bowes Inc., she has also held leadership positions at Colgate-Palmolive Company and the Unisys Corporation. From 1976 to 1982, Mayes served at the U.S. Department of Justice as an assistant United States attorney in both Detroit and Brooklyn, rising to chief of the civil division in Detroit. As we welcome Michele Coleman Mayes, we are also looking to our membership for a variety of other sessions to make this year’s conference one that truly reflects the “Big Tent” of who we are as an organization.

Now more than ever, MWL is poised to advance the success of women attorneys in Minnesota. We continue to offer new and significant engagement opportunities and celebrate the achievements of our membership. Without a doubt, MWL’s goals are only achieved when we create and implement a collective vision of a legal profession that advances the success of the all attorneys who embody it. Kendra Brodin 

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