Making it at Microsoft: Lessons for Law Firms

by Vault Law Editors | April 18, 2011

  • My Vault

During the Conference Board’s Women’s Leadership Conference last week, Dave Thomson—Corporate Vice President of the Business Online Services Group at Microsoft—and Linda Apsley—Director of Program Management at Microsoft—hosted a session called Critical Dialogues: Partnering with Executive Leaders for Shared Vision and Career Growth. Thomson and Apsley kicked off their presentation with a quote from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer:

“We cannot let current economic challenges derail progress made on diversity efforts in the IT industry, legal profession or anywhere else. Diversity is critical to the success of our economy and to the advancement of our society.”

Jumping off from this introduction, Thomson and Apsley discussed some of the strides that Microsoft has made in supporting its network of female employees and offered some advice on achieving career success. Of their advice, three particular ideas stood out to me:

1.Strong Leadership Trumps: According to Mr. Thomson, “it’s about having strong leadership” when it comes to supporting women in the workplace. With the right leadership, things fall into place.

2.Intent is Key: Building trust and understanding each other’s intent is an essential aspect of progress. Awareness of people’s purpose and objectives can lead to better collaboration and fewer misunderstandings.

3.Be Direct: Employees should be upfront and candid with their managers. If employees aren't comfortable providing feedback to their supervisors, they should move on.

How do these lessons apply to the advancement of female attorneys, if at all? While I don’t think any of the three are enough on their own, I think each of them is an important tool for supporting women lawyers. In terms of strong leadership, the aims and overall culture of a firm must come from the top. If the top doesn’t believe in and actually work toward a cause, the rest of the firm cannot follow. At the same time, outstanding management and beliefs in ideals aren't sufficient to yield progress alone—leaders must engage. And that is where intent and trust enter. Partners can create a prime base for progress through building a rapport with associates and ensuring that associates understand their intentions and goals. Associates who recognize that partners are focused on advancement and career growth can concentrate on their own progress and have confidence in the partnership’s actions and decisions. This relationship of trust can result in more openness, which is critical to a firm’s understanding of how to best promote female lawyers. Associate feedback provides a firm with an understanding of female associates’ perspectives and helps the firm shape its direction and initiatives. In an industry where the leadership is predominantly male, these lessons—support from the top, building trust, understanding the firm’s intent, and welcoming feedback—can be useful tools in addressing the lack of women leadership in law firms.

The Conference Board
The Conference Board’s Women’s Leadership Conference

Read More:
5 Lessons on Mentoring & Sponsorship
Should Law School Rankings Account for Diversity?
Law Firm Diversity: Views from Female Insiders

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Filed Under: Law

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