Many organizations use affinity groups to provide networking and support for women and minorities. Schiff Hardin’s New Moms Group offers a look at how to better integrate affinity groups and organizational culture.
In 2014, 2017 Pathfinder Lucy Bickford (below, left) and Partner Melody Cross (below, right), both then associates at Schiff Hardin, launched the New Moms Group to provide practical advice and general support for new and expecting mothers, in an effort to make sure all women at the firm felt supported through what is often a difficult transition period. But the group quickly evolved.
Advice, Support, and Advocacy
In addition to providing community, advice, and support, the New Moms Group is an advocate for mothers within the firm, with members working together to frame requests for things like office locks and refrigerator space for nursing moms. And the requests go both ways—the firm now asks the group for feedback on back-up care plans, new policies, and services.
Input from the New Moms Group led to Schiff Hardin’s adoption of an e-course about navigating maternity leave and the transition to motherhood (called Mindful Return), as well as a breast milk shipping service for traveling moms (Milk Stork). Members of the group also assist the firm with recruiting, discussing their experiences with candidates and helping integrate lateral hires and incoming associates.
It’s not just the content and structure of the New Moms Group that make it successful. According to Bickford and Cross, the firm’s culture and the engagement of its leadership have also contributed to the group’s success.
“An open door mentality is a big part of the culture at Schiff Hardin,” Bickford said. “Every time we invite someone from firm management to see what we’re talking about or to ask questions, people are always willing to show up, share ideas, provide feedback, and just listen.” This includes Marci Eisenstein, LCLD Member and Managing Partner of Schiff Hardin, who has been personally available to the New Moms Group.
Achieving Broader Goals
For those interested in starting any kind of affinity group, Bickford and Cross said it’s critical to align group goals with organizational strategy and frame requests in terms that show the benefits for the overall organization.
“We continually think about how we fit into and can benefit the firm as a whole,” Cross said. “We’re focused on change rather than just what’s bugging us—that’s helped the group stay together and stay motivated.”
“The firm’s affirmation that we’re important, and how we’ve been given the opportunity to make change, have been a big part of the reason I’ve stayed at the firm.”
By making women feel that the firm is invested in their overall wellbeing and career advancement, the New Moms Group is also a way to attract and retain female lawyers—an important advantage as the percentage of female partners at law firms across the country remains low.
“This is a relatively small investment for the firm, but it makes a huge impact on how new moms and future moms feel about where they work,” Bickford said. “The firm’s support of the people in our group and the changes we have made create great loyalty and a pride of place that can’t be replaced.”
While the New Moms Group is not the only factor impacting retention, both Bickford and Cross said their career choices are a testament to the group’s influence and the firm’s support.
“During my 10 years at the firm I have had two kids,” Cross said. “The New Moms Group, the firm’s affirmation that we’re important, and how we’ve been given the opportunity to make change have been a big part of the reason I’ve stayed at the firm. They all add up to a good place to be.”