The award-winning Gibbons Women’s Initiative (GWI) is a critical component of the firm’s efforts to create a more diverse attorney workforce and leadership team, by implementing innovative and proven programs that promote diversity awareness both internally and throughout the legal community. Founded in 1997, the Gibbons Women’s Initiative is a highly successful platform for new and senior women attorneys to participate with each other, clients, and high-level representatives from business and academia in quality educational and social programs that improve knowledge; foster teamwork; provide vital mentoring, networking, and business development opportunities; advise on family-friendly benefits; and promote the role of women in business. The Initiative has grown into a highly respected organization, with more than 60 Gibbons women firm actively working on its programs and more than 2,000 invited women participants.
One of the most noticeable goals the firm has achieved in the years since launching GWI has been its recent recognition as an exemplary employer for women.
Most notably, Gibbons was named among the 2009 winners of the prestigious, international Catalyst Award, which honors major corporations with leading women’s initiatives and programs worldwide.
Gibbons was the third law firm, and by far the smallest company at the time, to have ever received this award, one of the preeminent corporate honors recognizing outstanding achievement in the advancement of women in the workplace. In 2011, the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) established its Gold Standard Certification. Gibbons was one of only 32 law firms nationwide that year to initially meet WILEF’s gold standard criteria for successfully demonstrating that women represented a meaningful percentage of influential roles at the firm. Similarly, in 2007, Working Mother magazine published its first-ever list of the “Best Law Firms for Women” and featured Gibbons as the only New Jersey-headquartered firm among 50 firms nationwide to be honored for commitment to the retention and advancement of women.
GWI presents substantive legal and non-legal educational programs, plus various civic, social, and cultural networking opportunities, for firm attorneys and corporate women executives.
Recent programs have covered legal topics such as trademark and licensing fundamentals, special education law, employee performance management and terminations, and employer concerns and responses to employee health issues, as well as business topics like corporate and nonprofit board selection and service, financial planning, and the importance of sustainability and “going green.” GWI also hosted a three-part seminar series on niche legal topics and trends in the areas of e-discovery, real estate, and employment law. In addition, the group has partnered with such organizations as the Financial Women’s Association, Rutgers University Center for Women and Work, Turnaround Management Association, Women in E-Discovery, and the American Corporate Counsel Association to provide substantive programs to their members on issues relating to the advancement of women. Recent social events GWI has hosted include an escape room adventure and a gala celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Gibbons offers a formal mentoring program to all attorneys, which pairs them with a Director who assists with integration in firm life, provides career counseling, and identifies opportunities for growth.
The firm also provides associate to associate mentoring and mentoring through GWI. The firm’s mentoring programs formalize the relationship between senior and junior attorneys and provide a means for the firm’s next generation to gain insight and assistance from more established attorneys. Junior attorneys develop action plans covering the areas on which they would like to focus, and mentors assist them in reaching their goals. Our director-to-associate and associate-to-associate mentoring programs provide valuable career guidance, institutional and professional knowledge, and support through careful mentor/mentee matching and monthly meetings. Associates at various levels in the firm are paired with Directors, also at various levels, who assist with integration in all aspects of firm life, provide career counseling, and identify opportunities for growth.
The mentoring component of GWI has evolved over the years in several iterations, to reflect the most current interests and preferences of participants who meet to discuss sensitive issues, air viewpoints, learn personal and professional development strategies, and share ways of balancing family and work needs. In 2017, the Gibbons Women’s Initiative introduced a new mentoring program designed to assist women attorneys at all levels, including non-equity directors, to develop and advance in their careers through regular engagement and sharing of insight with the firm’s women equity directors and other senior women attorneys. The “Lunch-A-Month” program randomly assigns a diverse group of female attorneys to a monthly luncheon based on availability during three date and time options, so that different groups meet on different dates each month, and participants are not with the same group month after month, widening the scope of their relationships.
These monthly luncheons are generally organized by the two high-level women Directors who are required in each group. These Directors choose the location of their respective luncheons, communicate all details to their groups, guide conversations, and solicit follow-up. Personal business development and professional advancement, including advancement to the highest stages of leadership at the firm, have been regular topics across these luncheons, with those in seniority offering advice, personal case studies, and guidance.
Training & Development
Through the firm’s heralded “Gibbons Academy,” Gibbons devotes substantial time and resources to the training and development of all firm lawyers. These programs are designed to provide associates with increased director-level contact, broaden their substantive knowledge on selected topics, and impart valuable skills that will improve their practices.
GWI’s programming component also provides substantive legal and non-legal educational programs for an esteemed group of Gibbons attorneys and corporate women executives and leaders. In addition, Gibbons registers our women lawyers for outside training when we identify a need, including training run by the National Association of Women Lawyers, local and state bar association events, and other organizations for training on specific topics.
GWI partners with the Gibbons Leadership Academy (GLA) for leadership training modules specialized for women attorneys, which explore and promote women’s unique leadership styles. One GLA/GWI co-production, Creating Your Personal Business Development Plan, was developed in conjunction with an external training consultant who has a particular niche working with women professionals. The program introduced the concrete, customizable action steps that women attorneys should take to develop business and otherwise advance their careers, presented in the context of client definitions of value and service. Creating Your Personal Business Development Plan was a multi-session course, with extensive personal preparation assigned to each participant, along with hands-on instruction, role playing, and implementation assistance. All the firm’s women directors and counsel participated in this program.
Community & Charitable Outreach
From the start, the Gibbons Women’s Initiative has supported the local communities in which Gibbons has offices, through participation in major fundraising, volunteer, and similar constructive activities.
Led by GWI’s Community Service Committee, GWI assists local underprivileged children by collecting backpacks, school supplies, clothing, and other critical items. GWI also helps women in transition – for example, through business attire and accessories drives for the Dress for Success Campaign for women entering or re-entering the workforce. In addition, GWI is involved in the firm’s annual holiday food drive, which takes place from mid-November to mid-December each year and has resulted in donations of thousands of pounds of food since its inception.
If a member of the Women’s Initiative is made aware of a specific need by a local community organization, GWI will partner with that organization to help alleviate the crisis. For example, GWI hosted a “housewarming” donation drive benefiting women and their children being housed by the Jersey Battered Women’s Service (JBWS) center. GWI members donated hundreds of household items – from kitchen appliances to bed and bath necessities – to help these families transition out of crisis and start over in their own housing. Similarly, GWI organizes volunteer outings to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. On one recent outing, the Gibbons volunteer team, which also included numerous clients and colleagues from the GWI invitation list, spent an evening sorting and packing food products for distribution to some of the 1,600 nonprofit organizations the FoodBank supports, which include emergency food pantries, shelters, and other group care settings throughout the state. GWI also led a firm-wide baby supply drive, throughout all offices, to assist four organizations that support four different communities served by Gibbons offices. Employees donated toys, baby food, bottles, pacifiers, diapers, infant and toddler clothing, and numerous other items, along with funds to supplement the donated items.
Partnering with Outside Organizations
GWI has forged close working ties with several other women’s organizations that share a similar mission to advance women in the workplace, collaborating on jointly sponsored programs and networking opportunities.
This outreach focus is a natural progression following the successful leadership roles that certain GWI members have had in other women’s groups. For example, we were long active with the New Jersey Council on Gender Parity since its inception, helping to create national and statewide programs and research projects addressing gender equity issues in various professions, including successful fundraising for one of the largest regional studies of women lawyers in the country. The Council’s 2009 report provided a review of the current state of the legal profession for women, insight into how women lawyers perceived their careers and futures, and best practices to help firms retain women lawyers. Additional organizations with which the Gibbons Women’s Initiative has been involved include:
The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL): Gibbons attorneys are exceptionally active with NAWL, the leading national voluntary organization devoted to the interests of women lawyers, women’s legal rights, and the unique concerns of women in the legal profession. A Gibbons Director is currently President-Elect of the organization; firm Directors have served in other Executive Board capacities and as chairs of various committees and have won the organization’s Virginia S. Mueller Outstanding Member Award. Gibbons regularly sponsors NAWL events, including legal educational seminars and webinars that our attorneys plan and at which they present, and we partner with NAWL on charitable and community outreach projects, such as a recent benefit for “The Pajama Program,” which provides new pajamas to children in need.
Several Gibbons attorneys have co-chaired NAWL’s annual meeting program committee, helping to shape the comprehensive agenda for the organization’s yearly gathering, and several others have given well-received presentations at these events. Specific presentations we have helped develop include “The Pipeline to Equity Partnership: The Skills, Strategies, and Stumbling Blocks Senior Women Lawyers Encounter on Their Path to Reach Equity Status” and “Getting to Win/Win: Strategies for Employers to Overcome Unconscious Bias and Empower the Success of Women Attorneys.”
The New Jersey Women Lawyers Association (NJWLA): NJWLA is engaged in statewide efforts to support and promote its members to high-level positions in law firms, government, academia, corporations, and the judiciary; foster leadership development through professional activities, mentoring, educational programs, and networking functions; and retain women in the legal profession. Numerous Gibbons attorneys are members of NJWLA, with several serving key executive functions for the organization, particularly on its Programming Committee, which guides the organization’s annual portfolio of events. Our attorneys have also won NJWLA’s esteemed Women’s Initiative & Leaders in Law Platinum Award, in recognition of their commitment to the development of the legal profession and sustained contributions to addressing gender equity challenges.
Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: Gibbons is a member of this national organization, which is dedicated to advancing women lawyers and improving work/life balance for all lawyers, and participates in its benchmarking surveys and assessments designed to highlight challenges and opportunities. GWI members have served on panels at the organization’s annual meetings, covering such topics as “Innovative Ways to Implement Flexibility” and “Best Practices for Creating, Supporting, and Being a Successful Part-Time Partner.”
New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA): A GWI member served as At-Large Trustee of the NJSBA, a position designated for a woman by the NJSBA bylaws and Board of Trustees to advocate for the women lawyers of the state and work to increase the involvement of women in the organization. Our attorneys have also been active in the NJSBA’s Women in the Profession Section.