For eight years, two of DWT's most accomplished partners, Bonnie MacNaughton and Jaime Drozd, have been leading the Women's Affinity Group they founded. Bonnie and Jaime share the principles that are the foundation of a successful affinity group and how applying those principles lead to success for women and for the business.
When Bonnie MacNaughton and Jaime Drozd joined Davis Wright Tremaine as partners in 2014, they quickly noticed there wasn't a women's affinity group at DWT and sought approval from the Chair of the DEI Committee to form a group.
Eight years later Bonnie and Jaime are still leading the group. But that's about the only thing that has stayed the same. The percentage of women lawyers at the firm has grown from 34.33% to 44.97% and the percentage of women partners from 24.1% to 33.4%. While there are many factors that have contributed to the increase in the number of women lawyers at the firm, the work of the Women's Affinity Group has clearly contributed to that progress.
From the outset, Bonnie and Jaime opted for a solution-oriented approach. According to Bonnie, "instead of focusing on the difference between being a man and a woman in a profession that is male-dominated and how to work through those issues, we asked: how do the women in this group become successful and how can we help them become successful." And, as Jaime noted "if there are more women with successful practices at the table when leadership decisions are made, then issues that are important to women are going to be given more consideration."
For Bonnie and Jaime, three principles are the foundation of a successful affinity group at any company or professional firm.
- Focus on the business
In June 2019, Bonnie and Jaime launched the first of a series of daylong conferences that are focused on giving women the tools and strategic techniques they need to build and run partner-level practices. Purposefully named Elevate, these conferences are singularly focused on helping women build successful practices. Jaime notes that "we aren't going to change societal expectations about a woman's role in the household or the workplace, but we can change the number of women who have successful practices at DWT."
Focusing on the business and what makes the business successful is the key to a successful affinity group in any organization, Jaime says. "Map out what is successful for the business and then empower women to contribute to that success."
Include male allies
A key strategy of Elevate was to "open the tent" and invite male allies to participate in the panel discussions, presentations, and social events during the conferences. Jaime notes this sent the message to the men at the firm that while this was a women’s affinity group, "at the end of the day, we are your colleagues, too, and we want your support."
Bonnie seconds this, observing that "it’s incredibly important for us to have male allies as we work to advance women's careers at the firm. We all share this collective vision that having successful women partners at our firm is extremely important, and unless our male colleagues are in the room where the mentoring, coaching, and expertise sharing takes place, we will not achieve our goal."
- Build community
DWT's Women's Affinity Group has more than 200 members in 11 different offices, so Bonnie and Jaime are always looking for ways to build community among women who might not otherwise have a chance to get to know one another. In addition to bringing together women from different offices and practice areas at Elevate, the peer-mentoring circles organized and run by DWT partner Cindy Caditz are key to building relationships. The peer-mentoring circles are groups of eight to 12 women who are similarly situated in their lives and practices and provide a space to share ideas in a more intimate setting.
Similarly, even Women's Affinity Group meetings held via Zoom end with breakout sessions where women are randomly placed in groups of four to six, giving everyone an opportunity to connect with people they might not know. For Bonnie, "it is really important that we establish these relationships so as women at the firm we can reach out for guidance to a woman colleague with a particular expertise or we can pass along a business opportunity to another woman. In business, these interactions often occur when you just go to the guy down the hall. We want to make sure that ‘down the hall’ includes the entire community of women at the firm."
These three principles continue to guide Bonnie and Jaime in their ninth year leading an ever-growing affinity group. Their work more important than ever, Bonnie and Jaime will be focusing on ways in which to help DWT women build successful practices, tap into the support of male allies, and develop relationships within the community of women at the firm. Among other things, after a pandemic-induced hiatus, Elevate will be back this year and in the coming years, focused on launching the next generation of successful careers at the firm. As Bonnie says, "It's pretty simple. Our main goal, and the reason we put so much work into it, is to develop more women partners at the firm and ensure their success."