//Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Robyn Minter Smyers

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Robyn Minter Smyers

Executive Committee, Thompson Hine

By Sharon Holbrook

Robin Minter Smyers

“I want to live on Leighton Road,” real estate attorney Robyn Minter Smyers told her husband Bert. This was some 15 years ago, when they were contemplating a move away from New York City. Remarkably, thanks to inquiries with a network of friends in Shaker Heights, that’s exactly where the Shaker native and her family wound up.

Smyers, recently promoted from partner-in-charge of the Cleveland office to Thompson Hines’ Executive Committee – the firm’s nine-member governing body – grew up in the Boulevard neighborhood and attended Shaker public schools until she left for Harvard University. Smyers moved back when she and her husband were thinking about having children.

“We couldn’t think of a better place to raise a family than Shaker Heights,” she says.

Smyers credits much of her own success to her Shaker roots, which still shape her work. “I believe that growing up in Shaker gave me a tremendous advantage in life. First of all, I had such a high-quality education.” But it wasn’t just academics, she says. “I had a strong appreciation for diversity and inclusion. As a person who is biracial, I had a healthy sense of myself from having grown up in such an integrated community. And I had a passion for social justice. The Shaker schools have done a good job in preparing young people to care about the world.”

It’s not an accident, she says, that some of Thompson Hine’s priorities echo the Shaker values she describes. It’s part of why – in addition to its stellar real estate practice – she chose Thompson Hine when she returned to the Cleveland area.

“As an African American, I was searching for a firm that already had a lot of history and tradition of attracting, retaining, and advancing people of color.” The firm’s support for women was also a factor in Smyers’ decision to choose Thompson Hine. “We are proud of our tradition of attracting, advancing, and retaining women, and the fact that we have so many women in leadership roles at the firm is a reflection of that deep and longstanding commitment,” says Smyers.

Finally, Smyers was also attracted to the firm’s longstanding commitment to community involvement and service.

“We couldn’t think of a better place to raise a family than Shaker Heights.”

Now Smyers is at the center of shaping its culture, which has continued to evolve and grow. One innovation has been in the ways the firm supports its attorneys as they become parents. Thompson Hine has long had a generous maternity leave. Smyers took more than seven months after the birth of her first child. Now there is even more support, including for dads.

“We’re a talent-oriented business, so nothing is more important than ensuring that we keep and support our people through the process of becoming parents,” says Smyers.

Thompson Hine has received national recognition for its Mother-to-Be mentoring program, which partners younger lawyers who are expecting a child with more senior partners who are mothers.

Part-time arrangements are also workable at Thompson Hine. Smyers came back part-time after the birth of her first child, and she actually changed the structure of her part-time arrangement almost every year for a few years. When she was named a partner, she was still working part-time and was expecting twins.

When I talked to Smyers this spring, she was still the partner-in-charge of the Cleveland office. As such, she said she relished her role in fostering this sort of culture.

Sometimes that’s as simple as thinking of everyone when an office renovation takes place, as it recently did at Thompson Hine. Attorney offices on the outer ring of the Key Center location now have glass on their hallway-facing side, meaning that the support and administrative staff on the inner ring have much more natural light than they did before.

The day before we talked, Smyers told me, Thompson Hine had hosted a special community event that included all employees, “from the people in the copy room to the most senior partner.” In partnership with the Cleveland Leadership Center, Thompson Hine hosted five civic entrepreneurs for a Shark Tank-type competition. The winner, as voted on by Thompson Hine employees, would receive seed money as well as access to pro bono legal support and Thompson Hine volunteers.

“People left feeling so excited,” says Smyers. “It’s a fusion of our community service work and our pro bono work, and a way that our staff and attorneys can really come together to support ideas that have the potential to be transformational.” And, of course, she loves having the chance to do legal work for her hometown, including working on the redevelopment of Public Square and the development of the downtown Cleveland Hilton. “And I’m very proud to be counsel to the City of Shaker Heights in connection with the Van Aken District project,” says Smyers, who worked as a citizen member of the Economic Development Committee for many years before becoming counsel to the City.

“We worked on that Van Aken District project for two decades, and it’s really wonderful to be part of the team that has helped the City actualize that vision for a commercial downtown.”

A downtown that, when it’s done, will be just a short hop from her home on Leighton Road.

Originally published in Shaker Life, Summer 2018.