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WER June 2020 From the President
Volume LXX, Issue IV

Published June 11, 2020

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2019-2020 Board of Directors

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2020-2023 Strategic Plan

 

MWL Welcomes Your Comments

From the President

By: Amy Taber

Amy Taber is Prirme Therapeutics' Employment and Litigation Senior Legal Counsel where she provides legal advice and support to Prime's human resources and facilities teams and assists with oversight of Prime's employment and general business litigation activities. Amy began practicing Law in 2004 and was a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP before joining Prime. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Amy was a human resources professional for 10 years. Since joining the MWL Board as a Director in 2012, Amy has served in the role of Secretary and President-Elect. Amy is also a two-time recipient of the Service to MWL Award.


Amy Taber

It is hard to believe that this is my last WER article as President. To say that it has been a different year than I anticipated would be a huge understatement. I will say, however, that it has been a remarkable year for many, many different reasons. When I originally finished this article on May 17th, my focus was on our communities and everything people were dealing with as a result COVID-19, in particular our communities of color. Then, before WER went to production, George Floyd was killed at the hands of law enforcement.

As a result, I revised my original article to the best of my ability in the time I had to do so, fully recognizing that no matter how much time  I had, I would not be able to find the “right” words to express my anger, heartbreak and resolve to do better in the wake of yet another unarmed black American being killed.  But, with the time and space I have here (and many other places), I will speak up and speak out because being silent is unacceptable.

Before I speak to George Floyd’s death and the overarching issue of racism and social justice, I will share what I originally wrote about the impact COVID-19 has and continues to have on MWL and what MWL has and is doing, as a result of COVID-19.  As a framework for this first part, I am borrowing from various articles I have been reading in light of the pandemic -- React, Respond, Reset.

React

In early March, given all we were hearing about China and Italy, Deb, Katie and I started discussing and planning for various impacts COVID-19 may have on MWL’s Annual Conference since we were in the midst of confirming travel plans with Leila Hock, MWL’s keynote speaker from Diversity Lab. Within a span of a week we went from the possibility of having to postpone to the reality of cancelling the entire conference. Given the hours of planning, organizing and coordinating, not to mention the excitement around the wonderful speakers and content that was planned, cancelling was disappointing, but absolutely necessary for the health and well-being of our attendees, staff, stakeholders, and our communities. 

Concurrent with that decision, MWL also made and communicated the decision to hold all MWL meetings remotely and secured Zoom in order to allow video and audio connectivity, rather than audio conferencing only. Details related to specific meetings were quickly updated and distributed to MWL leaders and participants, and updated information was posted on individual event and meeting pages on MWL’s website.

Respond

Once we cleared the react phase, MWL turned its attention to responding and exploring opportunities to offer alternative programming and networking to remain present to our members.  Thanks to conversations with our staff, leaders, members, partners, sponsors and allies, fabulous ideas and events emerged. Here’s a sampling of just some of the ways in which MWL responded or is responding:

  • MWL leaders engaged in a “MWL Community Call-a-Thon,” with the objective of personally calling EVERY SINGLE ONE of MWL’s nearly 1,200 members because MWL’s membership is the foundation of the organization and we wanted the opportunity to connect despite the need to social distance. 
  • Since we weren’t able to gather for our 48th Annual Meeting, we brought the event to our community virtually via the MWL 48th Annual Meeting video (all credit goes to Deb Pexa), announcing the FY20-21 Board election results, recognizing MWL’s 2020 Annual Award recipients, highlighting the many accomplishments of the year that was and looking ahead to FY20-21.
  • MWL Community Connections was launched to provide an opportunity for a causal monthly meet-up via Zoom to keep our community connected.
  • MWL reviewed the nine excellent CLE programs that were planned for the Annual Conference and is finding ways to “repurpose” and deliver them in the future, whether as a remote-only webinar or as part of the 2020-2021 fiscal year programming. 
  • MWL is making  important changes to its member dues structure for the FY20-21 membership campaign to ensure MWL continues to be accessible to everyone, regardless of financial situation:
  • Membership will be FREE for all law students.
  • Members can continue to join and renew at the standard MWL membership dues levels, but all current (renewing) and prospective MWL members also have the opportunity to choose a SELECT Membership, which provides the opportunity to select any dues amount, up to and including a FREE membership.
  • MWL will invite those who are able to help sustain MWL to do so through a Premier Membership.
  • All members will also be offered the opportunity to make an additional donation to MWL when they join/renew.

Reset

As with the react phase, it feels as though we are nearly through the respond phase and are now faced with figuring out what MWL’s reset will look like. Of course, this is no easy task given all the uncertainty that still surrounds COVID-19, but it seems fairly certain that we will need to reset our expectations, priorities and how (and where) we spend our time to stay connected as a community. One thing I am certain of is that even in these unprecedented times, MWL will continue to be a community for women lawyers from around the state (and country thanks to Zoom) to come together, to communicate new ideas, to seek support, to network with other women lawyers and allies, and to connect with emerging and exciting new leadership talent.

This continues to be uncharted territory for all of us and no one can navigate this alone, nor should we. I truly believe that if we take what we have learned and build on the new ideas and opportunities discovered during this time, we will emerge stronger than ever before. Together, as a community, we can and will get through this pandemic.

Racism and Social Justice

As I make the transition to this second part, I recognize that there is an intersectionality with COVID-19, which is the devastating and disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had and is having on communities of color due to underlying health, social, and economic disparities. The statistics emerging are so alarming that the CDC has undertaken a study to understand and attempt to reduce the impact on racial and ethnic minority groups.

In my earlier drafted article, I spoke to what MWL has done and is doing to understand barriers and stereotypes related to membership in MWL and increase the racial and ethnic diversity, among other underrepresented groups, of its membership and in leadership roles. I have opted to retain much of what I originally wrote, because I feel it still bares sharing.

In FY2015-2016, MWL created its Governance Committee, in part, to lead MWL’s internal diversity efforts by developing and implementing specific D&I goals and initiatives. One of the first tasks the Governance Committee completed was creating MWL’s Diversity and Inclusion Statement.

Next, in FY2016-2017, the Governance Committee surveyed MWL leadership to collect certain demographic data to benchmark leadership demographics.  After completion of that survey, the Governance Committee convened a focus group with MWL member leaders who represented diverse racial backgrounds to have a candid conversation regarding areas MWL could improve in serving its members of diverse racial backgrounds.

As FY2017-2018 began, the Governance Committee held a second focus group to continue this conversation. This time, the objective was to expand the group involved in the conversation to include leaders in the community that were not MWL members to further learn and discuss ways to overcome barriers and/or stereotypes related to membership in MWL; and to further evaluate how MWL could be more responsive and relevant to the needs of women attorneys of color in Minnesota. 

As responsibilities grew for the Governance Committee, it became more challenging to find and dedicate the time needed to fully develop, implement and carry out specific, actionable D&I goals.  Given the importance of D&I to MWL, the Governance Committee addressed this issue by establishing the MWL D&I Subcommittee in fall 2019 to lead MWL's efforts by identifying, developing and implementing  specific goals and initiatives to advance diversity and inclusion within MWL.  As reflected in the article in this issue by Mary Szondy (written before George Floyd’s death), one of the D&I Subcommittee co-chairs, the Subcommittee developed a D&I Plan for MWL for the remainder of this year and for FY2020-2021.  The Subcommittee’s D&I Plan for FY2020-2021 has been fully incorporated into MWL’s new Strategic Plan, Goal #4 Diversity & Inclusion. I am incredibly grateful to the thoughtfulness, hard work and honest conversations the members of the D&I Subcommittee had, and will continue to have, as this D&I Plan is implemented and evolves. Thank you to MWL’s D&I Subcommittee members, Dionne Blake, Poonam Kumar, Sukanya Momsen, Calandra Revering, Jenny Robbins (co-chair), and Mary Szondy (co-chair).

My hope is that for those that view MWL as an organization comprised only of white women from big law firms, they will take a fresh look at MWL.  One third of our current and incoming Board members are racially diverse and roughly three-quarters of MWL Board members are from corporations, solo/small firms and the public sector. I fully recognize we all have a limited amount of time to dedicate to outside interests, including affinity bar organizations.  I also understand that we are more apt to spend what time we do have with an affinity bar that aligns with our racial or gender identity, but I am hopeful that through these challenging times, what makes us different will help bring us together because, in the words of the late Paul Wellstone, “We all do better, when we all do better.”  I know I want to do better and be better.

Now to the much broader and bigger societal issues of racism and social justice and George Floyd’s  killing at the hands of law enforcement. As I mentioned at the beginning, I have struggled to find the “right” words to express my feelings, but I am committed to saying something, even if I get it wrong because being silent is unacceptable. More importantly, I am committed to truly being an ally and taking the actions outlined by Ritu Bhasin in a recent program hosted by Twin Cities Diversity in Practice—I will (1) identify my own biases; (2) wear my “equity goggles”; (3) engage in mindful listening; and (4) take action and use my voice to acknowledge and support BIPOC.

Just recently I had a conversation with an MWL law student liaison, who is a not black but is a woman of color, and she expressed so well how I was feeling too that I asked her permission to share what she said, and, gratefully, she said yes. Here is what she shared when I asked her how she was doing:

Actions in response to the killing of George Floyd have given me some things to work on (not that I was ever short of having things to do), but it is also [frustrating (and insert a handful of words because the feelings are broad and difficult for me to describe)] that these sorts of actions were long overdue, and this is what it took to see real movement from myself and others.  And it doesn't seem quite right to compare the anguish that I feel to that of the Black community, who have lived with this feeling for centuries.

As I'm sure is pretty universal, 2020 is difficult to wrap my head around.  In the wake of the societal shifts going on, I am unable to wish for things to go back to "normal," but still crave some sort of normalcy.  It's difficult to know what that will look like or when it will happen.

As Dory famously says, it's time to "just keep swimming" even if sometimes it feels like it's against the current.

As I close out my term as President of MWL, I plan to just keep swimming.





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