Andrea S. Kramer
Andrea S. Kramer

Since McDermott Will & Emery LLP formed a committee more than 10 years ago that focused on leveling the playing field between its male and female attorneys, the firm has seen its number of partner promotions come closer to being balanced.

Nearly half of the latest round of partner promotions at McDermott were women, which surpassed the national average of women making up 37 percent of partner promotions among Am Law 100 firms in 2016, according to a group called Diversity & Flexibility Alliance.

On. Jan. 1, McDermott will promote 34 new partners, including 16 women. The 47 percent makeup of female partner promotions at the firm in 2017 is an increase from 33 percent in 2016 and 27 percent in 2015.

McDermott partner Andrea “Andie” S. Kramer, who helped to found the firm’s diversity committee and is currently the co-chair of the gender diversity subcommittee, noted that the firm’s uptick in female promotions has come as a result of a yearslong effort to help women within the firm reach their goals.

When the diversity committee was formed in the early 2000s, Kramer said, the group surveyed firm members, when it learned that mentorship was key to lawyers being happy in their jobs.

“People who checked the box to say they had a mentor … were much happier with their careers,” Kramer said. “They would have less complaints … and that told us we really needed to try to implement mentorship programs and to make sure that nobody was really left behind or outside.”

One way in which the firm has fostered mentorship opportunities relating specifically to gender issues is through the Women’s Business Development Initiative Coaching Program, which Kramer helped to launch about 10 years ago. It gives female senior income partners and the occasional junior income partner the chance to work one-on-one for eight months with an outside coach the firm pays for to help the attorneys develop skills in areas of business development and marketing.

“It’s not a program that focuses only on how to get your own clients, but how to be a lawyer that is as valuable as you can be to your practice group in the firm, and a lot of the women who have been getting promoted are people who have been through the program, especially the more senior ones who are making it through the capital partner ranks,” Kramer said.

Kramer also has experience in examining gender barriers outside of her leadership role at the firm. She co-authored a book that was released in May, "Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work,” with her husband, Alton B. Harris, a partner at Nixon Peabody LLP.

One of the newly promoted McDermott partners is Britt Haxton, a tax attorney based out of McDermott’s Washington, D.C., office.

Haxton said she hopes to take part in the coaching program now that she’s been named a partner. She highlighted a new program at the firm designed for senior female associates, called Building Career Foundations which she credited with helping her to develop leadership skills ahead of her promotion.

There are 28 participants in the program’s first class, Haxton said, in which firm associates are able to meet with senior female partners who share “some of their war stories on how they’ve dealt with specific issues,” she said.

“We decided to expand to that [new program] because what we believe is that you can’t be too junior to learn good habits and practices,” Kramer added.

Haxton said McDermott also provides its associates with business development stipends that she thinks have been particularly useful to female attorneys who have been able to take more senior female partners out to lunch as an informal mentorship opportunity.

“I think that our business development group along with our women development group are really, I think, keying in on ways to try to give other opportunities [to female attorneys],” Haxton said. “Not every attorney builds business the same way … Let’s make sure we’re getting opportunities of others ways instead of just out on the golf course or with your fraternity brothers. There have to be other ways you can build business.”

Kramer said the firm’s gender diversity subcommittee is also focused on increasing the number of women serving in firm leadership roles, which she noted is “nowhere near 50 percent.” However, she’s hopeful that will change as the firm’s overall makeup of female partner promotions has increased in recent years.

“I think that the hard part, and what we’re striving for, is being able to maintain those numbers of [female] partners coming in and for the highest levels of the partnership to be able to demonstrate a bigger percentage of women in senior positions and holding important roles in the partnership,” Kramer said.

“It is a continuing trend that we have been fortunate enough to see in the last handful of years and I know there are a lot of people who are hoping and expecting that we can keep it up and continue to improve at the highest levels,” Kramer said.