Sidley has long provided unique opportunities for women in the law, embracing uniqueness in background, experience and viewpoints for a greater wellspring of talent. This credo has led Sidley to become both a successful global law firm and a professional services workplace where women thrive. At Sidley, women have cultivated careers, challenged their legal skills, risen to partnership, become leaders as well as role models, and given back to their communities and the following generations.
The Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women pursues strategies to maximize the Firm’s success in retaining women lawyers, promoting women associates to partnership, and promoting women partners to positions of authority and power within the Firm. We currently have more than 569 women lawyers firm-wide (34%) and 127 (20%) women partners with collective experience in virtually every area of our practice. Of our associates, more than 375 (44%) are women. The Committee is led by women partners from most U.S. offices, as well as London and Hong Kong.
Sidley recognizes that effective mentoring is key to professional development, and so upon entering the firm, each associate is assigned a practice group mentor. To further support and facilitate the progress of women and diverse lawyers, the Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women has created supplemental mentoring programs tailored to the firm’s individual offices. In our larger offices, incoming female attorneys are grouped in “mentoring circles” comprised of women lawyers across a range of seniority and practice groups. In smaller offices, mentoring groups may include all of the women in the office. Some mentoring are organized randomly, while others come together around shared interests, such as arts and culture, civic involvement, health and fitness, and business or practice development. These mentoring programs afford female associates immediate access to women partners and counsel both inside and outside of their practice group, thus giving them exposure to a wide variety of personalities and perspectives.
Firm leadership and the Committee have worked to develop and promote women into the partnership and leadership of the Firm. This effort has produced measurable results. As of 2012:
- Women comprise 20% of the Firm’s total partnership;
- Twenty-seven percent of the Firm’s Committee Chairs or Co-Chairs are women;
- Sixteen percent of Practice Group Heads and 16% of Practice Area Team leaders are women;
- Women comprise 16% of the Firm’s Executive Committee and 10% of its Management Committee.
Women in Leadership: Fostering Personal and Professional Growth
Our passion for expanding horizons for women in the firm, our clients and the business community at large inspired Sidley’s Women in Leadership series, which promotes networking for women, including the firm’s lawyers, in-house counsel and other professionals. Through a mix of engaging informal networking gatherings and business presentations, these events give women lawyers the opportunity to build relationships and develop the skills essential for success.
Women in Leadership events have featured accomplished women from many walks of life, including:
- Michelle Robinson Obama, Vice President for Community and External Affairs for the University of Chicago Hospital (now First Lady of the United States)
- Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno
- ACLU President Nadine Strossen
- Shareholder activist Nell Minow
- Merrill Lynch General Counsel Rosemary Berkery
- National Public Radio legal correspondent Nina Totenberg
The Committee also hosts a variety of social events and receptions in each of the firm’s offices, bringing women lawyers from all areas of the firm together for critical networking opportunities:
- Chicago events have included a reception at the Lincoln Park Conservatory and a backstage look at the acclaimed “Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” exhibit at the Field Museum.
- In Los Angeles, women lawyers have held Lee National Denim Days and supported an office-wide team for the Revlon Run/Walk to raise money for the fight against breast cancer, as well as hosted a reception to ring in the New Year.
- New York events have included a discussion about flex-time, tours of prominent New York art galleries, and participation in community projects such as the Year of Giving Back, in conjunction with New York Cares. In a 2011 event organized with NY Cares to benefit the Partnership for Inner-City Education, volunteers made 500 kits to help students be better prepared for school. Also in 2011, the New York Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women hosted its first women alumnae cocktail reception in partnership with Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that provides professional clothing, career counseling and skills training to disadvantaged women in over 75 cities worldwide. In addition, the reception launched the New York office's weeklong clothing drive, which collected over 200 articles of clothing to donate to Dress for Success.
- Among other things, our San Francisco women lawyers have hosted a champagne tasting to benefit Dress for Success.
- Washington, D.C. events have included programs on “what I know now that I wish I knew when I started practicing,” rainmaking, maternity leave, and marketing and practice development, as well as bi-annual women’s dinners hosted at a Committee member’s home.
Committee presentations are made regularly at firm events such as:
- The New Associate Orientation, designed to provide information to get associates off to a good start.
- Seminars for junior women lawyers that provide tips for success and answer common questions.
- The annual Mid-Level Associates Conference held each year for all fifth-year associates. In addition to a formal Committee presentation, women attendees meet for dinner with women partners to discuss positioning for promotion to partnership.
- The Women Partners' Retreat, which provides career development and networking opportunities for women partners and senior counsel.
In addition to programs focused on professional success, the Committee sponsors presentations on personal success, including business development and financial planning seminars. Sidley’s women lawyers are also active in the National Association of Women Lawyers and local bar.
Sidley is a forerunner in the development of family-friendly policies and programs that benefit both male and female lawyers. Sidley’s work/life initiatives include:
- Reduced Hours Policy: The firm recognizes the value of and strongly supports reduced work schedules for lawyers in appropriate circumstances. Any Sidley lawyer may work a reduced schedule for proportional compensation. Sidley’s reduced-hours policy allows lawyers--women and men--–to meet a percentage of the time commitment expected of full-time lawyers while remaining on partnership track and retaining benefits and bonus eligibility. In 2011, 16 percent of our women lawyers worked reduced schedules. In the last four years, seven associates were elevated to partnership while working reduced hours.
- Parental Leave: Associates who act as primary caregivers may take 18 weeks of compensated parental leave in conjunction with the birth of a child. Ten weeks of compensated parental leave are provided to male or female primary caregivers of adopted children and four weeks of compensated parental leave are available for male or female non-primary caregivers.
- Childcare: The firm provides subsidized emergency and backup child care.
- Lactation Facilities: Fully-equipped private work rooms are available for nursing mothers. These rooms also house a library of parenting books and infants’ and children’s clothing exchanges.
- Practical Resources: The firm holds periodic seminars on hiring child care and elder care providers.
Sidley’s women lawyers understand the importance of giving back to the community.
The firm’s award-winning pro bono work includes significant involvement in and commitment to organizations dedicated to improving the lives of women and children. These organizations include:
- inMotion: Sidley is a corporate and pro bono partner of New York-based inMotion, Inc., a nonprofit group that provides free legal services, in the areas of matrimonial and family law, to low-income, underserved and abused women in the metropolitan area. The firm provides a full-time legal extern to inMotion and regularly handles cases from the office.
- Chicago Public Schools: Sidley has a long history of supporting the Chicago Public Schools, including a 25-year relationship with the firm’s adopted Kanoon Magnet Elementary School. Nearly all of the children qualify for free lunch and many start school without basic school supplies. Sidley’s support has enabled Kanoon to obtain essential teaching aids, art supplies and computers. Sidley has also held mock trials, field trips and hosted many other activities at the school.
- The Alliance for Children’s Rights in Los Angeles: This group seeks to protect the rights and futures of abused and impoverished children
- Dress for Success: This worldwide organization fosters economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire and career development services
- Center for Family Representation: This New York-based group assists families in poverty and crisis
Sidley regularly handles pro bono cases involving women’s issues and has represented the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The firm also has an active asylum assistance practice, with more than 100 Sidley lawyers. The firm also represents juvenile immigrants who have been abused, abandoned or neglected by their parents or legal guardians and are seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status--petitioning for lawful residency under the VAWA. Sidley also assists those seeking U visas and battered spouse waivers.
In addition, each of the offices supports and participates in local community service projects at various charities, providing ample opportunities for lawyers to “give back” on an individual level.
Achievements and Pledges
Sidley was named by the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) and Flex-Time Lawyers as a 2011 Best Law Firm for Women. Sidley is among the 50 winning law firms praised for their continued attention to work/life and women’s issues and for their use of flex-time, reduced-hour and other family-friendly policies to ensure the future success of the profession. Sidley also received this honor in 2009, 2008 and 2007.
Sidley was recognized by Yale Law Women as one of their "Top Ten Family Friendly Firms," a list of law firms that are leaders in developing and practicing family friendly policies. Sidley is one of four law firms to appear on the 2009, 2010 and 2011 lists.
Sidley was named to the Women in Law Empowerment Forum’s (WILEF) inaugural list of law firms with Gold Standard Certification--a designation for firms that integrate women into top leadership positions and compensate them well. Sidley was one of only five of the largest 20 firms by lawyer headcount to make the list in its first year.
Sidley received the inMotion Inc. 2011 and 2009 Commitment to Justice Award and a special Legal Team Award for Sidley’s 2004-2009 Sidley Externship Program.
In recognition of our firmwide diversity initiative, Sidley is one of only three law firms to receive the Catalyst Award given by Catalyst, the leading research and advisory organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and business.
Sidley participates in a number of initiatives committed to achieving specific and recognizable goals with respect to diversity, including:
- Signatory, Chicago Bar Association’s “Call to Action” on Women’s Leadership in the Legal Profession
- Signatory, Association of the Bar of the City of New York “Statement of Diversity Principles”
- Signatory, Los Angeles County Bar Association’s 2005 Statement on Diversity Goals and Principles
- Founding member, the Project for Attorney Retention (PAR), an initiative of the Center for Worklife Law at University of California Hastings College of Law