Editor: When and how was the Women's Initiative at Epstein Becker & Green founded?
Silverman: We formalized the program in 2002, shortly after I came back to the firm. I had practiced here as an attorney years before, but when I returned I joined the marketing department. Soon afterward, I had a conversation with three of the women partners - Fran Green, Joan Disler, and Mickey Neuhauser - who were raving about a professional women's networking event they had attended. They said that the event lacked a definite focus, but that there was a wonderful energy nonetheless. The idea of tapping into that energy was very appealing to me. When I suggested that we could start a similar program at EBG, they were extremely enthusiastic about it.
Editor: How would you define your mission?
Silverman: At first we asked ourselves, "What is it we are hoping to accomplish? Is it to educate, to bring in business, to meet other women?" We realized it was a little bit of everything. We knew we wanted to go beyond just seminars; EBG has that covered. Our mission is to enhance the careers of professional women by providing opportunities outside the office to network, share information, acquire skills, and develop rewarding relationships. We decided to focus on senior level women - ensuring that women who come will be networking with their peers. This is one of the reasons we have been so successful.
Editor: Did it seem to you that EBG was particularly suited to host such events?
Silverman: In the past decade, our firm has established itself as one of the leading law firms for women. The firm has more than 50% female attorneys with 25% of its partners being female. We work with a number of high-level women - general counsel, CFOs, CEOs - so this puts us in a great position to form a women's network focused on senior-level professional women.
Editor: Is there a commonality among women lawyers and business women? Do they share similar goals?
Silverman: Absolutely. Speaking as a lawyer, I can say that practicing law is a business - especially for the partners in a law firm, who are business owners. And among women who have shared a high level of success in any business - whether they be working mothers, part- or full-time executives, business owners, or corporate ladder-climbers - there is so much that they share.
Editor: How do you choose your events?
Silverman: We choose events that we believe will be useful to professional women. We have organized wine, champagne and caviar tastings, as well as golf clinics, cooking classes, self-defense classes, and now a media skills workshop. All of our programs are fun and interactive, but more importantly, they provide an opportunity for professional development and a powerful networking environment.
Editor: Tell us about the Interactive Media Skills Workshop with Laine Conklin scheduled for two cities in the near term. What topics will she cover?
Silverman: We're holding this event in Los Angeles on May 4 and in Miami on May 16. We will be teaching women how to take advantage of the media opportunities that exist. You needn't be the spokesperson for your company to appreciate the need for crafting a message, delivering a message, and making concise, clear and supported points. Laine will discuss the importance of presentation - tone, appearance, general impression - when delivering your message, whether you're speaking to a board of directors, giving an interview, talking with your staff, or making a sales pitch. The women will be able to test what they practice, too, through the use of scenarios, and they'll receive critiques on their work.
Editor: In general, do you get much feedback after an event?
Silverman: We have conducted one formal survey, which followed a golf clinic we held last year. According to the survey, 100% of the respondents said they left with new valuable personal or business contacts; 100% would definitely come back and 97% said they would bring colleagues with them next time. As a working professional woman, I was relieved to learn that no one felt I had wasted her time.
Perhaps most significant to me is when I hear about a woman outside the firm reporting enthusiastically about one of our events to someone else (sometimes a man) within the firm. This results in a stronger relationship between the woman and her EBG contact, and our firm members appreciate that a great deal.
Editor: How many women at the firm attend and what percentage do they make up of the whole group?
Silverman: It depends on the city. In the cities where we have offices close together, for example, New York, Newark and Stamford, our women attorneys attend all of those events. We have attorneys who do travel to attend EBG Women's Initiative events and we have guests who fly to other cities to attend our events - and they bring their networks with them.
Editor: Are there advisors who work with you?
Silverman: I work with the senior women in each of the offices where we hold the events, not only for practical reasons, but more importantly because we want that office and that city's flavor to be part of the event. It's very important that what we do reflects the personality of the women professionals in that community and women in our law firm. We don't have a national board of advisors, but we have senior women in every office: three of our offices are run by women. So I use those women as my guides when planning the events.
Editor: Does EBG have a mentoring program for its women attorneys, and if so, do you feel your program dovetails well with it?
Silverman: We have a diversity committee that runs the mentoring program in our firm. The Women's Initiative is able to foster informal mentoring as well. Say a young woman is wondering whether to attend one of our events: she'll get coaching on whom to invite and why, as well as the ways in which networking can be so important - for developing business, for developing yourself professionally. And so I think the Women's Initiative has become a very welcome adjunct to the firm's formal mentoring program.
Editor: How is your networking program unique?
Silverman: There are law firms that have networking events for women, and they, too, invite women from outside the firm- clients, and of course some non-clients - because law firms always have business development in mind. We feel our programs are especially successful because they are always interactive networking events, rather than just seminar classes. Also, we hold our events during the week, during work hours if possible; women today are often too busy to attend many weekend or late-evening events.
Similarly, we currently do not hold "destination events," and choose instead to have events in the communities where we have offices. Meanwhile, I don't consider us in competition in any sense with other women's initiative programs. The more we can do to help each other, the better. And the more of these programs that exist, the better for businesses all around.
Editor: Has the Women's Initiative brought in business to EBG?
Silverman: We have brought in some significant business, but I also know that the scope of our program goes beyond EBG. The events are not EBG sales pitches by any stretch. And I do know that a good deal of non-EBG-related business arrangements have been made among guests, too.
Editor: It sounds like your program has definitely taken off.
Silverman: Yes, in fact, by our third year we had become so popular that we had to turn people away from some events. We still do: we're not looking to host an event that's for 400 women. You can't bond with 400 women. There is a palpable energy in the room at these events, and I think this only exists because it's not an overwhelmingly large group of women. Our events work best with 60, 80 or 100 women.
As for the number of events, we are up to eight major events this year and we are adding to that slate smaller, more intimate events including some that are industry specific. At the same time, we've had the opportunity to become more actively involved with other organizations and programs that share our committement to enhancing the careers of professional women.
Editor: How would you say the initiative is changing over time?
Silverman: For one thing, the program is expanding. Its reach is broader though its initial mission has stayed the same. We are also holding new, different types of events including fundraisers, sponsorships and more. In one upcoming program, we will ask that all attendees bring with them a mentee. It might be a young future leader, a new employee, it might be someone's daughter. In addition, we are going to hold internal programs at EBG for all of the women here, junior and senior level, staff and attorneys. And the EBG Women's Initiative newsletter will begin distribution later this year.
Editor: What do you feel is the most effective way to teach women to take on leadership roles?
Silverman: First and foremost, I believe we need women already in leadership roles to serve as positive - and accessible - role models. They need to have an open door, and they need to mentor, if not formally then informally. It seems easier for men to mentor, train, and promote other men. But, that shouldn't be the case and it needs to change.
Editor: Where would you like the Program to be in five years?
Silverman: I would love to see the EBG Women's Initiative become even more involved in the community. For instance, we could partner with a local charity and use an event as a combination networking party and fund-raiser. I would also like to see this program be a more valuable resource for the community of professional women. There are so many more things we can do. I'd like to be able to tap the amazing resource we've created.