As the daughter of immigrant parents who grew up impoverished in Taiwan, I have never taken for granted the many opportunities that have opened up to me because of their sacrifices.
I have worked hard to achieve what I have, but I owe them a debt of gratitude as well as the many mentors and colleagues who have helped me meet and exceed my hopes and goals for my career and family. Today I find it fulfilling – and my duty – to mentor and open doors, especially for others who face systemic barriers to success.
We have room for improvement in diversity in of the legal profession, which becomes clear when one looks at the disturbing statistics on the demographics of lawyers. For example, the 2021 National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Diversity Report shows that Asians make up just 8% of all attorneys in law firms and only 4.3% of partners. Also, only 1.73% of partners are Asian women.
Additionally, the pandemic has exacerbated many women’s struggles in the workplace, with the responsibility of caring for families largely falling on women.
Mentoring is a key element in solving this conundrum, especially as women — and women of color in particular — are disproportionately leaving law firms. I believe with more visible examples of women leaders who look like them and are willing to offer advice and encouragement, we can reverse these trends.
Mentors can represent and support and validate others in a diverse community. At the beginning of my career as an immigration attorney at a former law firm, I was the only working mother and a woman of color in senior positions. Colleagues who didn’t have children or who had a partner who stayed home all day understood my circumstances but could not relate to my everyday life as a working mother.
When I started working as an associate at Ogletree Deakins in 2013, I was relieved to be mentored by successful shareholders who were also working moms. I received strong advice and support from our immigration practice co-chair, shareholder Jacky Maroney. As a mother of three, Jacky shared her wisdom on balancing work and parenthood: “Everyone has to do what’s right for their family.”
Jacky and other mentors at the company not only sponsored and nurtured me within the company, they were the people I turned to daily for practical advice on starting a family while respecting my career aspirations. They never batted an eyelid when I had to leave the office because of a sick child or to attend an important school event.
Now that my toddler hunting and baby bouncer days are behind me and I have more room to breathe, I relish the opportunity to mentor others and create a relatable environment for those who need it.
Look for mentoring opportunities
Ogletree Deakins offers several formal mentoring programs, including agreements through our business resource groups for our Asian, Black, Latino, LGBTQ+ and female advocates, as well as for parents returning to the profession. We also have special programs that target different employees.
For example, our Impact Sponsorship program matches employees with high-performing shareholders, and our Raise the Bar initiative provides support and guidance to a variety of senior employees and advisors critical to success and advancement. I have enjoyed mentoring associates through ODA3, our Asian attorney affinity group, helping to hone their business development skills and develop pipelines of quality work.
However, mentoring opportunities are not limited to employer-supported programs. Some of the most productive mentoring relationships I’ve been involved in have grown organically. For example, I met a mentee during our company’s recruitment process.
We met through a mutual friend, and she joined our firm as an associate in a different practice group and office from mine. We continued to meet weekly after she joined and she appreciated the opportunity to ask me open questions while adjusting to the company’s processes and culture.
I often tell my employees that some of their best mentoring and sponsorship opportunities are in their day-to-day interactions with experienced attorneys and partners. Genuine trust and valuable lessons can emerge from these relationships. In fact, as my mentoring relationships have evolved, I have found that some of my mentees have now become trusted peers who offer thoughtful insight into professional and personal matters.
Impact: The meaning of what we do
I believe that bringing in diverse voices (literally and metaphorically) improves every decision and outcome, increases everyone’s empathy and creates a more vibrant, human and vital society. Mentoring different attorneys is critical to furthering our understanding of perspectives beyond our own.
To build a real relationship, I believe in being direct and honest, which means communicating in a direct, tactful, and sensitive way. My mentees really want to learn and grow in their profession and appreciate clear and direct feedback. And since the written tone can sometimes be misunderstood, I recommend scheduling “live” meetings (in person, via video or phone) to build the mentoring relationship.
There is no substitute for the direct and meaningful connections I have made through mentoring relationships with attorneys. I have been fortunate that Ogletree has given me opportunities to mentor attorneys by serving in our Asian American Attorney Resource Group, on our Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, and as a volunteer supporter for immigrants and vulnerable populations.
Mentoring has a wide spectrum. In addition to professional care, I have endeavored to provide care through charitable work. The totality of these experiences contributes to our overall development as human beings.
For example, as an immigration attorney, I have been particularly fortunate to have many opportunities to develop mentoring relationships through pro bono services. In 2021, immediately after the US troop withdrawal and refugee crisis began in Afghanistan, I led a company-wide pro bono initiative.
I mobilized and mentored a group of more than 60 attorneys and paralegals in Ogletree and worked with numerous NGOs and the US Congress Offices to help hundreds of people from Afghanistan seek emergency relief and admission to the United States. I believe that we should use our privileges in this country and our careers to create real change for marginalized communities.
The person I am today has been shaped by both my mentors and mentees – these relationships are truly symbiotic and mutually enriching. I am honored to be a representative leader in corporate governance that supports a mission of equity, diversity and opportunity.
I am also proud that my children are able to see their mother as a person who sets an example as a female leader and working mother, who represents and celebrates our heritage and opens doors for others to do the same.
This article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
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Caroline Tang is an immigrant shareholder in Ogletree Deakins’ Austin office. She serves on the company’s Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee and received the company’s 2021 David E. Jones Diversity Champion Award.