Wisconsin Lawyer: Final Thought: Ladies, If You Can’t Beat ’Em, Join ’Em:

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    Final Thought: Ladies, If You Can’t Beat ’Em, Join ’Em

    For women lawyers, what’s the only way to combat against men-only networking? Take control. Create networking events yourselves.

    Deanne M. Koll

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    At a recent ABA meeting, the current ABA president, Laurel Bellows, discussed gender inequality, particularly as it relates to pay. I have not experienced this particular issue. But, Bellows’ comments got me to thinking. What general inequality do I see?

    Indeed, I have experienced gender-specific issues in my tenure as a woman lawyer. Most notable has been my struggle to break into the “old boys’ network” without appearing to be desperate.

    Deanne Kollcom dkoll bakkenorman Deanne Koll, William Mitchell 2006, is an attorney and shareholder with Bakke Norman S.C. with offices in Menomonie and New Richmond, Wis.

    I’m a partner in a 13-lawyer law firm in a small town in northwestern Wisconsin. We’re close enough to the Twin Cities to have a varied client base with relatively unique, complex legal issues. In my creditor’s rights practice, I work almost exclusively with banks and small business owners. In this work, I have yet to meet a bank president, senior commercial lender, or special assets manager who is a woman. I’m uncertain whether this phenomenon is a result of the work or my geographic location. But, regardless, this means that almost all the clients I deal with on a daily basis are men.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy working with men. And, anyone who knows me would certainly attest that my personality, humor, and (sometimes) language meld best with having a male clientele. However, this situation is not without its own challenges.

    Like most practices, my work is relationship driven. Meaning, if I don’t maintain and build relationships with bank presidents, special assets managers, and business owners, I’ll soon find myself with a shrinking book of business. Herein lies the problem: getting invited to and attending all-male events with clients. For example, it’s hard to get invited to (or attend) the annual all-boys golf weekend or the all-boys annual fishing Friday.

    We have to create new traditions, make new annual events that are not all dominated by men.

    I have a male partner at my firm whose practice is similarly male-client dominated. His invite list from clients to social gatherings is substantially longer than mine. I don’t think that this is a result of him being any more fun than I am (and I believe he would agree). Rather, this is simply a result of him being the same gender as the clients organizing the get-together.

    So ladies, what do we do? We have one of two options: 1) patiently wait for our next male client to plan a purse party; or 2) become the party planner, rather than the invitee. Because I hate purse parties, I’ve opted for option number 2.

    Anyone in my firm would agree: I’m a planner. Whether it’s planning a happy hour for the entire special assets group for a bank client or planning a Twins outing with the bank president, his wife, and my husband, I plan the events so I’m in charge of the invite list. I see this as my only counter attack against the “old boy’s club.” We have to create new traditions, make new annual events that are not all dominated by men.

    What’s the old mantra? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. That’s the only way to combat against men-only networking. You create the event, then you’re in control. And, let’s be straight, we all prefer to be in control. Go get ‘em, ladies!