January 10, 2011

Law schools hosts 'Women in Leadership Program'

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Southern Illinois University School of Law will host a program this week that looks to address disparities of women in leadership positions within the legal profession.

The second “Women in Leadership Program” focuses on preparing law students to be leaders within their profession. The program is Thursday and Friday, Jan. 13-14, in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The workshop runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

Cindy Galway Buys, an associate professor of law and director of the international law programs, and Alice M. Noble-Allgire, a professor at the law school, created the program last year to address gender inequities they see within the legal profession.

Dean Cynthia L. Fountaine said the program is important for several reasons. In July, Fountaine became the first female dean in the law school’s 38-year history.

“While the numbers show that women have been graduating from law school in nearly equal numbers to men for the past two decades, women are still under-represented in leadership positions such as partnerships in law firms, the judiciary, and senior law school administrators. I hope to see an increase in the number of women in leadership positions in the legal profession, “ she said.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to cover the program at the SIU School of Law. For more information or to arrange interviews, contact Alicia Ruiz, the law school’s director of communication and outreach, at 618/453-8700.

Because there are fewer women in leadership positions, there are fewer opportunities for female law school students to observe and learn from women mentors and role models, Fountaine said.

“This program gives students the opportunity to learn from and establish personal connections with women leaders,” she said. “I see this program as one piece of an overall commitment to creating a law school environment that nurtures a diverse student body and provides opportunities to enhance each student’s preparation to excel in an ever-changing and demanding profession,”

The gender imbalance “has the potential to undermine the public’s confidence in our legal system,” Noble-Allgire said.

“Simply put, the legitimacy of our courts is impaired if the public perceives that the key players within the system are not representative of the demographics of our community.”

Women hold fewer than 16 percent of equity partnerships in the nation’s top law firms, comprise 20 percent of the nation’s law school deans, 20 percent of corporate general counsel, and 32.4 percent of state court judges, according to the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession.

In Southern Illinois, there are only nine female circuit and associate judges among 66 judges within the First, Second, and 20th judicial circuits, which cover 26 counties, according to the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts website.

“Wherever you are looking at leadership in the legal profession they are predominately men,” Buys said. “We want to educate women as law students about what it takes to be a leader, and some of the things they may want to do to move along in their career to leadership positions.”

Buys anticipates 30 to 35 law school students will participate in the program, which is also open to male law students. Many of the topics will also apply to them, including how to become better at networking, and differences in how men and women negotiate and communicate.

Topics will include gender and communication, negotiation, interviewing, networking, gender issues in the workplace, developing a personal-professional brand, and balancing career and family. The program features law school faculty and other faculty on campus, alumni, and local attorneys participating in lectures, small group discussions, group exercises, and panel discussions.

In addition to the one credit course for the two-day program, students can also earn two credits with a practicum that also consists of a research paper, oral presentations and journal-length articles, in addition to job-shadowing a prominent female attorney or judge to observe her leadership skills.

Jane Sanders, the author of “GenderSmart -- Solving the Communication Puzzle Between Men and Women,” will deliver the keynote address at 6:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 14, at 17th Street Bar and Grill, 214 N. 17th St., Murphysboro.

There is a possibility the program could be open in the future to other disciplines, including students in the SIU School of Medicine and the College of Business, Buys said.

The program’s focus is to help participants “build their own leadership skills while gaining an appreciation for the challenges that women face as leaders within the profession,” Noble-Allgire said.

The program is equally beneficial for men, she said.

“They, too, will become better leaders by recognizing the gender differences -- both real and perceived -- that affect the way that members of the legal profession communicate, negotiate, and otherwise interact with one another,” Noble-Allgire said.