Jennifer Hagle is a transactional bankruptcy lawyer at Sidley Austin LLP. In 2014, Jennifer was the recipient of the Chambers USA Women in Law Award, Mentoring: Private Practice Lawyer of the Year. Since then, Jennifer has continued to play an active role in Sidley ‘s Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women and is involved in numerous pro bono programs.
27 years at Sidley
Jennifer has been with Sidley for 27 years. She first joined the firm as a summer associate in 1986. Her unique perspective has helped shape her gender diversity work at the firm: “I’ve seen how much the firm has changed over the years. Important progress for the advancement of women has been made with innovative and creative mentoring and sponsoring programs.” As a member of the firm’s Executive Committee, Jennifer and her team are focusing on developing potential female leaders and offering top-class training.
Starting at the top in terms of training and embracing a culture of change has helped to nurture a supportive and inclusive culture at the firm:
“My firm supported my three maternity leaves. I worked reduced hours for 5 years. I was promoted to the Executive Committee when I came back to work full time after working the reduced hour schedule. The firm continued to support me when I was juggling my career with small kids. In terms of our flex-hours program and remote working, it’s another area we have focused on. Providing flexibility is so important to retaining women lawyers because at the end of the day, it’s just good business to have senior women working in firms.”
Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women
Sidley’s Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women provides a strong embedded structure for its female lawyers in terms of talent development, leadership and retention. As with all robust gender diversity programmes, the committee continues to measure its progress on a regular basis:
“As a result, the Committee sat down and re-evaluated our goals and programmes based on various measurements. Based on that evaluation, we established an Executive Committee task force that examined various aspects of our retention and promotion of women, including why there are relatively so few women laterals on the market. Accordingly, we have started targeting women laterals and also re-evaluated how we recruit women, insuring that our women meet other people (including women lawyers) in the firm at all levels.”
One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in terms of creating a long lasting culture of inclusion and diversity, is overcoming the innate implicit bias we all carry within us. Recently, Harvard University published a range of implicit bias tests online which cover everything from race to religion to gender: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html. Implicit biases are an area in which Jennifer and her team are heavily focusing on:
“Recently, members of the task force met with every group head in our US offices to discuss best practices and improvement in terms of unconscious biases. We know it exists and we are focusing on trying to resolve it. We’ve had incredible support from our managing partners and generationally, this is not surprising because we have top leaders in the firm whose daughters are now in their 20s and in the business world so it’s not a hard sell at all. It’s not just lip service. The firm really is devoting significant expenses, resources and time to addressing the issue of unconscious bias. However, we recognize that if we hold group heads accountable for talent management , then we must train them.”
Besides the internal gender diversity programme at the firm, Jennifer has spear-headed a new campaign supporting female returners to work called OnRamp. Set up by talent management professional, Caren Ulrich Stacy, the OnRamp Fellowship is a re-entry platform that matches experienced women lawyers returning to the profession for a one-year, paid training contract. This experiential learning program gives returning women lawyers the opportunity to demonstrate their value in the marketplace whilst also broadening their experience, skills, and legal contacts.
“Whether you a senior, junior or mid-level lawyer there is an inevitable clash of priorities when you are building your career in your 30s. It’s not necessarily just children but many other demands on your time in terms of charitable and political interests or carer roles. There can be many competing demands.”
Such programs for women lawyers are still, unfortunately, an urgent necessity in the legal profession: “When I came out of law school, we all thought that gender diversity would work through the system and that women would eventually become 50% of partners and leadership. Unfortunately, those numbers have roughly remained flat,” Jennifer says. Jennifer is resolute in offering women the opportunity for success so that when there is a fork in the career path, this will be factored into future career decisions.
Ultimately, Jennifer believes that life experiences are hugely important in becoming a great lawyer:
“These returners to work are women gaining life experiences, judgement and maturity when they have time out to focus on other areas of their lives. With OnRamp, we are standing at the other end of the shore when people are ready to come back: women who worked for family business, had personal trials or taken time off for raising kids, these women want to come back on track and advance to leadership and it’s exactly the type of women we want to target.”
For more information on OnRamp, please visit: http://onrampfellowship.com/