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From the President

Connie Armstrong

About 2016-17 MWL President Connie Armstrong:

Connie Armstrong is Associate General Counsel for McGough Construction Co., Inc. in St. Paul. Providing legal representation, guidance, analysis and services to protect the legal rights of McGough and assist in achieving its objective of “Building Exceptional Experiences” while maintaining its tradition of quality and craftsmanship.  

Connie is a member of the Minnesota Air National Guard, currently assigned as the Deputy Mission Support Group Commander at the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth. She has been a member of the Air National Guard since high school and, prior to earning her law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in 2006, received an undergraduate degree from the University of Alaska – Southeast and a graduate degree from the University of La Verne while employed with the Alaska Air National Guard. She has been an active member of Minnesota Women Lawyers, first serving as the treasurer for the St. Croix Valley Chapter and on the Board of Directors since 2011. She has also been actively involved with the Minnesota Defense Lawyer’s Association for several years, speaking at its events and serving on its committees.  

Connie Armstrong's From the President feature in the Winter 2017 Issue of With Equal Right

It is my belief that everyone has something to contribute, if given the right opportunity. One role of MWL is to continue educating both women and men in the contributions each can make toward ensuring inclusivity, equitable opportunities and advancement in the careers of women in the law.

It is not entirely clear that backsliding is a phenomenon occurring in the legal profession, particularly not in Minnesota. However, we must be vigilant in our efforts to demonstrate the need for continued education of the cultures of the past and change the perceptions of women to ensure inclusivity and advancement into leadership roles at the same rate as men.

McKinsey & Company’s 2015 report Women in the Workplace revealed that even at entry-level positions, almost 25 percent of women have experienced some gender obstacle they believed to have detracted from a raise, promotion, or assignment. Additionally, a 2013 study by consultants John Gray and Barbara Annis discovered that 82 percent of women felt excluded at work, even though 92 percent of their male coworkers didn't think they were excluding women—clearly a disconnect in the way men and women experience inclusivity in the workplace. As with any bias in the workplace, people who do not feel valued, respected, or a sense of belonging have higher turnover and lower job satisfaction.

The upside is that we know that the behaviors exhibited in the workplace are learned and therefore can be changed over time with the right culture that promotes and encourages inclusivity. These efforts must be led and supported by those in the organization with the power and influence to address the gender disparities and also a willingness to speak up and call attention to these situations. Only by pointing out these inconsistencies in how women are treated does the learning and advancement begin to take place.  

The word education stems from the root word educere which, interpreted literally, means to lead forth, to nourish and bring out potential. MWL’s role in education includes reaching out to women early in their careers so they understand that they must seek out relationships to expand their network of influence. It is important for new lawyers to appreciate that building social capital through networks of men and women will help them gain recognition and establish a productive career. Women early in their careers must learn to be forthcoming in making their ambitions known. This role also includes educating women once they have achieved positions of influence in their careers. Educating on how they can and should use their clout to assist the women coming up behind them. Finally, this role also must involve training men on how sponsoring women is different than sponsoring men. Making an effort to coach men on the ways they can make a meaningful difference in achieving inclusivity will advance not only their own careers, but the careers of women in the profession. 

Assessments of women in organizations reveal that high-potential women are over-mentored and under-sponsored relative to their male peers and, as a result, are not advancing at the same rate as men in many organizations. This furthers the need to continue information campaigns on the differences between mentors and sponsors – both of which serve distinct and valuable roles in one’s career.  

While we see the number of women in early and mid-career management positions increasing, the proportion of women at senior levels of management has increased at a much lower rate – making far fewer senior women available to sponsor rising women. Men need to move past the myth that only women can sponsor other women. Sponsorship of women, particularly by men (who make up a larger percentage of those in leadership positions within the practice of law) is key. It is the role of sponsors, both men and women, to push women forward, raise their profile, provide valuable inside intelligence, make sure they have a place at the table, nominate them for key roles and share social capital. For example, what a man might take for granted in a male-centric organization may turn out to be the key information or connection a female needs to open doors that allow her to take the next step in her career.

Finally, it is not enough to simply put forth policies that seek to avoid gender stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination of women. To be effective and long-lasting, leadership must address disparities in the way women are treated in their organizations. To maintain any credibility, those with influence must bring to light any disparities and continue to address them publicly and consistently. When the sole woman in the room does not have to address language that is denigrating or dismissive to women, and men take charge and do that, it is very powerful and what good men do.

Sponsorship is a reciprocal relationship. In addition to expanded networks of influence, men particularly have experienced broadened work and interpersonal skills through positive relationships with women. In male-female sponsorships, men can help women learn about male behavior and attitudes, especially those linked to success in the organization. Just as importantly, women can teach men about how female decision-making, communication, and leadership styles are different than those of men.

No one can succeed alone. It takes a wide network of influence. After all, power is not just who you are but who you knowSocial capital – the collective value of all your social networks. Research has clearly demonstrated that organizations with more women in top positions perform better. We must take this to the next level. Efforts to ensure meaningful inclusivity, continued advancement, and increased organizational performance need to remain a focus for MWL so as not to undue the tireless work of all those that have come before us.  

View the most recent issue of With Equal Right: Winter 2017



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