A Letter from Ted Gavin
A Letter from Ted Gavin
Another morning. Another Amtrak train to New York City. If you know me, you know to travel on a Monday morning is not my favorite way to start my week. But there’s work to be done; there’s an interview with TheStreet at 1:30pm; there’s rehearsal with the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI) band, the Indubitable Equivalents (now on Twitter as @Indubies – tweet us your song requests!). So here I sit, swaying back and forth, writing. In a few weeks, a truly historic election will take place. Americans will either elect the nation’s first female president – fulfilling the promise and potential embodied in the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution enacted in 1920 – or they won’t. That choice will be historic for a whole basket of other reasons. But this isn’t about politics; this is about gender diversity.
A few years ago, we increased the size of our firm – that’s nothing unusual; firms change in size all the time. What folks tell me is unusual is of the five new hires, each of them happened to be a woman. We set out to hire the right people for the right position and gladly – the right people for those positions happened to be experienced, capable, talented women. We believe our firm is better when it reflects the composition of the communities we serve including gender diversity.
Our industry, it seems, is still a meritocracy where gender considerations yield to competence. Women in positions of power and responsibility are nothing new in our industry. Consider that, at the upcoming National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges (NCBJ), we will see a transition of the presidency of that organization from Judge Mary Grace Diehl (Atlanta, GA) to Judge Mary Walrath (Wilmington, DE) – both incredibly talented women at the top of their profession. Consider the past woman presidents of the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI) – Deborah Williamson, Bettina Whyte, and Melissa Kibler; or the past woman chairs of the Turnaround Management Association (TMA) – Melanie Rovner Cohen, Holly Etlin, and Lisa Poulin. These are professional giants to me. Some I am privileged to call friends.
A man I know, who serves as in-house counsel to a large energy company, once said how he ensured diversity in his hiring decisions – “Quotas are terrible, but intentionality is fantastic.” I agree. We want a firm that reflects the makeup of our professional community, so we consider that when planning growth. It makes us a better firm.
What does our professional community look like? There are twenty-one women on the ABI board, out of sixty board members – 35%. That doesn’t happen by accident. That may seem like a low percentage, but compare that to the legal industry as a whole, where women comprise 21.5% of partners in law firm practices; 18% of equity partners; 18% of managing partners at the 200 largest law firms. Women run 31.1% of law schools; they are 35% of judges sitting on Circuit Courts of Appeals; they are 33% of Federal District Court Judges. The numbers are similar for state court Judgeships, as well. ABI is ahead of the curve on gender diversity and it’s a better organization for it. But as an industry, we can and should be doing better. Much has been discussed about the drop-off between women associates in the profession (about 47%) versus less than half that as partners. Now isn’t the time to delve too deeply into that, because it requires a discussion of too many issues; personal, societal, family and firm-centric issues to be applicable here. But as an industry, we should be doing better and the only way we do better is one firm at a time.
When we started this firm, we wanted to do three things: 1) create a platform where truly exceptional people could find a home for their exceptional talents; 2) create a firm that was easy for others in our field to work with by doing exceptional work; and 3) create a firm where we could be proud of living our values.
Having a firm that reflects what our broader industry looks like is part of that. We can do better – we will continue to look for the best talent and create a place where they feel appreciated and respected. We will continue to try and have a firm that looks like what our industry looks like and try and lead the change where we can. Otherwise, we will deny ourselves the opportunity to understand perspectives shared by those in our broader community. I don’t know why anyone in our business wouldn’t want the same thing and actively pursue that result.
Who will face #bankruptcy in 2017? Ted Gavin discusses oil and gas, retail, shipping, and more on TheStreet.