How to build gender diversity into deal teams

genderdiversity
Black female boss leading corporate multiracial team meeting talking to diverse businesspeople, african american woman executive discussing project plan at group multi-ethnic briefing in boardroom

Before you can build and manage a diverse team, you must have a proper pool of candidates to select from within a firm. This does not happen without law or financial services firms being fully committed to the goals of diversity and inclusion. Diversity is not limited to the hiring process; it also involves hands-on initiatives through training and development. Success in the professional services business requires doing excellent work for the firm’s best clients. Accordingly, the best way to promote any young colleague is to staff them on important projects.

A diverse workforce makes the firm stronger, enhancing the value it provides to clients and to its community. Lawyers and principals need to know that creativity, cooperation and mutual respect are the natural result of an environment in which individual contributions are valued.

That formula of a diverse workforce with an inclusive environment is the foundation where all-women deal teams and woman-led teams have become a regular occurrence in the lending and corporate/M&A practices at Bracewell LLP. These teams have closed a succession of multi-billion dollar transactions in the oil and gas space, which is traditionally a male-dominated industry.

These complex oil and gas financings have included the representation of the lead lenders in several important recent deals in the offshore drilling space. Our all-women teams have handled the extensions and restructurings of: Ensco plc’s $2.0 billion unsecured revolving credit facility; Rowan Company’s $1.1 billion revolving credit facility; Diamond Offshore Drilling’s $1.075 billion credit facility, as well as the increase and amendment of Ensco’s credit facilities in connection with its recent acquisition of Rowan. Additionally, a number of corporate transactions have been led or co-led by Bracewell’s women partners and associates, including Harvest Midstream Company’s $1.25 billion acquisition of assets from Williams Partners L.P. and COG Operating LLC’s sale of produced water assets in the southern Delaware Basin to WaterBridge Resources LLC.

Team Building
Selecting a team for a specific deal is a bespoke process – always try to get the very best team for that client and that deal, based on individual lawyer specific experiences and experience level. The best way to consider gender in that process is to recognize that each of us, even women, is experiencing gender bias on an unconscious level. When you know that, and you consciously set bias aside, you can more accurately build a team of lawyers that are objectively best for a particular deal. Our firm prides itself and has been recognized by outside organizations for our deep bench of diverse talent in energy finance and mergers and acquisitions. Half of our energy finance partners are women, and more than half of our finance associates are women. When you select a team without gender bias fogging the lens you can very easily end up with an all-women team. By supporting women early on in their careers, including through prioritizing women’s initiatives, mentoring and flexible work schedules, more women organically rise through the ranks and become leaders of the firm. If you as a firm, and you as a leader and supervisor, are committed to diversity and inclusion, your own working groups will naturally become more diverse in race and gender.

How to Make a Commitment to Gender Diversity
Firms and companies alike need to create a welcoming environment to attract not only the top women, but all genders. There are several steps firms can take when looking to accomplish this goal:

● Create policies that enhance a young person’s experience at a firm, for example, mentoring programs and training in career skills.
● Provide and promote policies that help all associates regardless of gender fit a career and a personal/family life into the same 24 hours, including flexible work arrangements and generous maternity and paternity leave policies.
● Develop an internal women’s network.
● Train firm leaders, and all firm professionals, to understand, recognize and combat unconscious bias and discrimination of all varieties.

Through a women’s network, women in the workforce can share knowledge and experience and participate in activities designed to develop their skills and build strong relationships. The cornerstone of the Bracewell Women’s Network is the development of strong client relationships. Clients today want to see teams working on their deals or litigation matters that are themselves diverse in gender, race and ethnicity, and that include women in leadership roles.

Mentoring Equals Success
Firms need to make a concerted effort to hire and promote women and nurture their careers as they advance up the ranks. Organizations should provide young professionals with formal training and mentoring, but even more impactful are the relationships a young person has with the partners, principals and peers who train them on the job. When professionals are in the trenches together working on interesting and significant projects, strong bonds are formed that can be crucial to a young person’s access to future work flow, development of substantive expertise and advancement within the firm.

A young lawyer seeking a mentor should look for a more senior lawyer who needs associate help, and work hard to provide that help, thereby forging a bond that can develop into a mentor-mentee relationship. A peer group who can come up with you can also provide support to a young professional. As a partner trying to promote young lawyers, it is necessary to set aside any express or implicit bias and to acknowledge that even the most open-minded of us are actually experiencing bias whether we know it or not. We all need to recognize individuals for who they are and for their potential for future success.

What Advice Would You Give Others to Include More Women?
Take more care with decisions. Understand that – no matter your industry – unconscious bias will impact your decisions. When we engage with a clear unbiased lens, we are able to assemble the best teams, giving women the opportunity they seek to work hard and succeed.

Editor's Note: Each year, Mergers & Acquisitions names dozens of dealmakers to our Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A list. See the 2019 edition.