Natalie Runyon on the importance of Inclusion and Fairness
Natalie Runyon is the content strategist for the Transforming Women’s Leadership (TWL) and Next Gen Leadership: Advancing Lawyers of Color (NextGenLoC) initiatives. She comes to the role with a deep belief in inclusion and fairness as an ally to women, people of color, individuals identifying as LGBTQ and disabilities, among others.
Culture change in law firms and corporates
Natalie had the fortuity of co-founding TWL in 2016 and NextGenLoC in 2018 as an exclusive US program after seeing a gap in the marketplace where there was a lack of focus on structural barriers impeding women and lawyers of color advancement in the law. The main observation underscoring the need for TWL and NextGenLoC was noticing that the cultural norms, images of leaders, behaviors of leaders, and the actions to advance to executive ranks of law firms and corporate institutions were built primarily from the perspective of white, cisgender, male heteronormative perspective and how deeply entrenched these aspects were in the culture of employers in the US.
Women and attorneys of color are required to adapt to these norms, which can be mentally, energetically, and physically taxing over years of practice, to reach the most senior leadership ranks. Natalie observed that most of the efforts on diversity were focused on “fix the women” or “fix the [insert name of underrepresented group]” rather than fix the organization.
Through TWL and NextGenLoC she wanted to focus on fixing the organization and breaking down the structural barriers by changing the culture of corporate institutions by expanding the images of what a leader looks like, enlarging the range of acceptable behaviors of a leader, broadening the pathways to success to include those that come more naturally to women and lawyers of color and don’t require as much adaptation. Force the culture to adapt the leadership styles and expressions of women and attorneys of color.
Natalie is proud that TWL has grown to a truly global program with the ongoing US program, an initiative that started in Latin America in 2020, a Europe program launched in 2018, and activities in Asia and the Middle East since 2017. TWL also includes live events to focus on increasing women’s representation at senior levels in the law.
Also, in 2020, TWL partnered with Penn Law to complete the first half of a first of its kind study examining how emerging male leaders in law and business, specifically law students, construct their idea of what it means to be an ally to women, especially women of color. The study analyzes how emerging law leaders build allyship in ways that could alter the concept of leadership in the future.
Later this year, Natalie in partnership with a colleague, is launching a regular content series on LGBTQ inclusion called “Outspoken.”
The goal of the TWL initiative is:
To curate conversations between law firms and general counsels to discuss the barriers that hinder women’s advancement;
To enhance connections between senior women in law firms and corporate counsel offices; and
To enable law firms and business to explore, identify, and implement solutions to remove structural and organizational obstacles that impede women’s advancement.
The goal of the NextGenLoc initiative is:
To spotlight the career brilliance and accomplishments of attorneys of color in order to inspire and prepare the next generation of leaders in the law;
To amplify the voices of lawyers of color, specifically on the ways in which legal employers can partner with them in their career journeys to success; and
To enable legal employers to explore, identify, and implement solutions to remove structural and organizational obstacles that impede the advancement of lawyers of color.