In September, the WSBA hosted a panel entitled “Women, Race and Age: Mitigating Misogyny and Bias in the Legal Profession.” We (Robin Haynes and Linda Fang) were panelists, along with Elaine Edralin Pascua and Onik’a Gilliam. In an effort to continue the conversation, we wanted to share our takeaways from the panel and encourage readers to share their stories in the comments. If you weren’t able to attend, you can view the recording here./Beyond-the-Dialogue.
Robin, who was recently sworn in as the WSBA’s president, had these takeaways:
My takeaway is bittersweet. I was heartened to see so many women willing to share personal stories and experiences, but I was disheartened as little to no progress appears to have been made in the area of misogyny in our profession – or, as I call it, institutionalized sexism. Yes, there are more women lawyers, but that alone is not enough.
Linda walked away from the panel with more questions than answers, but she continues to believe that mentorship is critical in helping to women lawyers stay in the profession and combat misogyny and bias:
I talked to many women who are unsure how to grow or remain in the profession given their experiences with misogyny and bias – new attorneys looking to make connections, mid-level attorneys struggling to find balance, and senior attorneys wanting to remain active practitioners.
As I said in my article, “Keeping Women Lawyers in the Profession” in the April/May 2016 issue of NWLawyer, it is critical for women lawyers to create a network of female role models who can better relate to their frustrations and help them navigate difficult situations. When I was 24 and on the receiving end of sexual advances from a male supervisor more than 30 years my senior, I turned to the only female attorney in my department, who helped me successfully navigate the situation and finish out my summer clerkship. However, if I had had a mentor I could turn to when I was 27 and facing comments by opposing counsel and a judge in open court about how difficult it is for men to “deal with feisty Asian women,” I probably would not have carried the shame of those comments for the next six years, working tirelessly to prove my worth as a litigator to the white, male partners in my firm only to burn out and almost leave the profession altogether.
Although the profession needs to change, we know that change comes slowly, and, in the meantime, women need to encourage and support each other to remain in the profession and create more opportunities for future generations.
Robin plans to incorporate her personal experiences and those of the many women lawyers who have reached out to her in her term as president in the following ways:
This year, I will be focusing on issues related to sexism, strategies to challenge or change it, and ways men can be allies to women. I do not think we’ll succeed in equal footing for women in the profession if men do not speak up, not only when they witness sexist behavior in front of women but also when it occurs when women are not around.
I welcome stories from women attorneys and law students about barriers they’ve faced, and I will be sharing my own stories about the explicit and implicit sexism I have and continue to experience in the profession. The WSBA Board of Governors will continue engaging in trainings around these issues, and I’ll be working with external stakeholders to confront the issue head on. We’ve spent far too long making excusing for why there’s not parity in leadership, pay, and opportunity for women attorneys.
It’s 2016. It’s no longer acceptable to have an all-male panel at a CLE; to never have had a woman on your board; to not have women equity partners; and to not pay women at rates equal to their peers. As a leader, I am happy to speak up loudly and to share the data and tools for other women to speak up as well. We’ve been too nice as women and we’ve said too many sorries. When it comes to this discussion, I ain’t sorry.