Every year before Thanksgiving, the Gallagher & Kennedy law firm raises money through a series of office challenges to donate to the purchase of turkeys for charity. At the end of the event, the company gives enough money to buy thousands of turkeys.
This is the type of office culture that has allowed the Gallagher & Kennedy Professional Women’s Group to carry out its goals of connecting the company’s women while promoting business development and philanthropy.
The Women’s Group started in February 2013 to help the firm’s female attorneys network with each other. It soon grew to include women at the office who are not attorneys, such as lobbyist Deb Gullett. It now includes about 20 members.
Before the Women’s Group started, Gullett said she barely knew any of her female coworkers.
“For me it’s had a tremendous impact just because now I know who these people are,” she said. “It’s been a terrific way for us to become more engaged with each other that’s meaningful.”
Now Gullett is in charge of community engagement for the group. She said she’s never felt more connected to her coworkers or more included in an office.
Since its inception, the group’s mission has evolved to include philanthropy and business development as a central goal.
Group chair Julie Rystad said they’ve tried to find approaches that may be outside the firm’s usual approach.
“Law firms are always doing those kinds of events — take someone to the game, take them golfing and things like that,” Rystad said. “We wanted to do ones that were more geared at women or families.”
One of those business development events was at Valley Youth Theater, where clients were encouraged to bring their families. The Women’s Group has members on the board of the theater and they used the event as a way to network with clients and support local art.
Rystad said the diversity of the group allows the women to engage with the community in ways that they may not be able to do on their own. Even though most of the women are involved in philanthropy individually, coming together has helped them accomplish much more.
Laura Antonuccio is an example of the diversity of their interests.
Antonuccio, who coordinates philanthropy for the group, said she was an early childhood education major before becoming a lawyer. While she enjoys practicing law, she said philanthropy is a way of reconnecting with what she valued in education, which is something she doesn’t necessarily experience at work.
Antonuccio organized a book drive and reading event for the children at Phoenix Day school. At the same time, the Susan G. Komen Foundation held an event at the firm where employees could purchase books from a pop-up book store.
A few of the women in the group purchased all of the children’s books from the store and donated them to the school. Gullett said it was an excellent opportunity to support multiple charities at once.
“It’s a way for us to be connected to one another and the community in a way that we haven’t before,” Gullett said. “And being engaged in the community, working together and helping this school that we’ve sort of adopted is fulfilling and helping the community.”
Meg Smeck, marketing manager with the firm, said it has supported the goals of the group from the beginning. When she brought the idea to the firm’s board, they quickly approved of the idea.
“Much of what we do has been embraced and we’re constantly supported,” she said.
Gullett said she can’t think of something the group has asked for that hasn’t been “given two thumbs up.”
And once the group was started, Smeck said the women stepped naturally into extra leadership roles and took the organization in a direction she hadn’t necessarily considered but was happy to see.
Jennifer Cranston, who will be the group’s next chair when Rystad steps down, said she wants to continue to build upon the women’s efforts.
“We’re going to stick with our core missions but move the ball forward with each of them,” Cranston said. “We are a young group and we obviously have more growth to accomplish.”
Cranston said the women in the group are some of the strongest she has worked with since arriving at Gallagher & Kennedy.
“Part of that strength comes from a desire to give back to the community,” Cranston said. “We’re looking forward to adopting sort of a new philanthropic goal and working together to make that happen, because if everything you’re doing is for you, I think you’re losing sight of the bigger picture.”