Takeaways from WSBA’s Diversity Panel Discussion on Women, Race and Age

Smiling women from downward perspective

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.

17 thoughts on “Takeaways from WSBA’s Diversity Panel Discussion on Women, Race and Age

  1. Edward V. Hiskes

    OK, having thought about my remarks above in the cold light of day, I do agree with President Furlong that I was too harsh. I still maintain that the WSBA should not use the concept of “older, white, male” in any of its own decision-making or reorganization plants. However, there is room for disagreement on this subject without invoking the concept of “bigotry”. I’ve looked at the definition of this word, and it refers to someone who is set in his or her ways and who is not open to new ideas. I have no reason to think that our WSBA officials have thought processes which are rigid in this sense.

    Also, use of the phrase “mindless Feminism” was wide of the mark. Feminism, in general, is a good thing. What I meant to say is that although Feminism is a good thing, there can be unanticipated consequences which people should strive to avoid. For example, in the Duke lacrosse case there was an untoward rush to condemn the supposed perpetrators of a rape, who happened to be white males. Likewise, I suggest that use of the term “white male” to describe the perpetrators of acts of sexism is also wide of the mark, because not all white males, or even large percentage, engage in such behavior. Not only is it wide of the mark, it is also very hurtful to many innocent people who happen to white and male. It is especially discouraging for those of us who have always agreed with the concept of equality to now be lumped in with some high-rise equity partner in the big city who uses the word “honey”. My view is that lawyers should be clever enough with language to both express the concept of “don’t call your female opponent honey” without also implying that whiteness, and maleness,and age are related to this problem.

    As for whatever problems there are on the Domestic Relations Calendar in King County, these have nothing to do with the WSBA President. I should have written about my feelings on this issue elsewhere, without using her remarks about males as a point of departure. A few years ago, Justice Sanders was widely condemned for suggesting that systematic racism might not be the explanation for the the larger proportion of blacks who are in prison. When he suggested that the reason for the disparity was that “blacks commit more crime”, he was called out by an employee of the Supreme Court, who wrote an article against Sanders in the Seattle Times. After this, the WSBA gave the employee an award for “Courage”. Since it thus appears that the WSBA agrees with the concept that Washington’s criminal law system has a problem with racial discrimination, I hope I was not too far out on a limb when I suggested that the same problems might exist with minority males who get involved with the domestic violence system. I think that emphasis on protecting women as victims, a good thing, has tended to put more males into that system, and, as an unintended consequence, more minority males are put into a system where they tend to get worse treatment.

    My biggest fear with use of the term “white” and “male”, in connection with the class of perpetrators, is the tendency of this thought pattern to provide a rationale for revenge attacks. Remember when Rodney King, a black man, was beaten by police? A riot ensued, and a
    totally unrelated white man, Reginald Denny, was attacked by a mob of revenge seekers. Even if talk about the evil of “white males” does not lead to actual revenge, the knowledge that people in the legal profession think in these terms tends to cause innocent people to fear revenge, and to distrust any system run by people who think in these terms. My primary goal is to suggest, as politely as possible, that there might be some better approach which avoids use of this classification.

  2. Edward V. Hiskes

    Dear President Furlong:

    In addition to containing a bogus and clumsy threat, your remarks also contained the racist, ageist, sexist statement “In each case, the perpetrator was, as am I, a white, older male exploiting his privilege.”

    If you intended this as a mere report of fact, I would not have a problem with it. However, if you intend to imply that there is some generalized problem with people who may be denominated as “older, white, males”, then there is a problem. My impression is that you intend this latter meaning.

    In my life, I have been the victim of a criminal assault 3 times. It just so happens that all three of these assaults were perpetrated upon me by black people. I am sorry to say this, but it is just a fact, the same kind of fact that you recite when you talk about having observed “old, white, males abusing their privilege”.

    Now, since I have been actually assaulted by black persons on three different occasions, does that mean that I am now allowed to make statements about the propensity of black people to commit assaults? Obviously, no. Emphatically, no.

    In fact, I did not draw any negative conclusions about black people in general based upon my experience, or based upon crime statistics, or based upon what other people might experience. Rather, I married a “black” person, and for the past 30 years I have lived in a household with no one except “black” people.

    I put the term “black” people in quotations, because that is the language many people use.
    However, there is really no such category as a “black” person, such that the category means anything. People who attribute meaning to “black”, in any social sense, are bigots, however many anecdotes they might cite.

    Since it is misguided to refer to “black” as a category, I say it is also misguided to refer to “an older, white male, exploiting his privilege.” If you want to condemn privileged people who exploit their privilege, that is OK. However, the skin color or sex or age of the person who is abusing his privilege is of no significance, since these qualities are not necessarily accompanied by privilege, and because privilege is often enjoyed and abused by people having opposite qualities. Only bigots single out particular groups for adverse categorization. Thus, no WSBA official should advocate that WSBA Board elections be re-organized to discourage participation by one imaginary group or another, even if one of those imaginary groups comprises the hated “older, white, male”.

    Edward Hiskes

  3. Edward V. Hiskes

    TYPO — Last sentence should read “That saved me the filing fee in Federal District Court.”

  4. Edward V. Hiskes

    Dear President Furlong-

    Since you used your official title, and stated that I violated the “WSBA standards of conduct” with my remarks, it appears that you are formally threatening me with disciplinary action unless I issue an apology to President Haynes. Sorry, that is not going to happen. On the contrary, I demand that President Haynes issue an apology for her racist, ageist, and bigoted used of the term “older, white, males” when referencing WSBA members.

    I do not take your threat to be an idle one, since the WSBA has violated the First Amendment Rights of members in the past. I particularly refer to the case of Anton Miller v. WSBA, 679 F2d 1313 (9th Cir. 1982). In that case, the WSBA prosecuted Attorney Miller for publishing a poem in a newspaper, which was critical of Supreme Court justices. The 9th Circuit found that the WSBA violated Mr. Miller’s right to Freedom of Speech, as protected in the Bill of Rights.

    More recently, the WSBA Office of Discipline issued an investigatory subpoena against Attorney Anne Block, because she published materials that were critical of local government officials in Snohomish County. This was a monstrous abuse of the WSBA’s power which merits the condemnation of any person who believes in the human right to freedom of expression.

    In both of these cases, it appears to me that WSBA insiders took advantage of the WSBA’s lack of compliance with ABA standards for the independence of disciplinary counsel, and were able to improperly influence disciplinary counsel to initiate actions which clearly violated constitutional rights. In light of these cases, I do not view your threat as an idle one. However, I do condemn your threat as a violation of my Constitutional rights, and I deem it defamatory, improper, and an abuse of your office. I demand that you retract the threat, retract your defamatory suggestion that I have violated any WSBA standard of conduct, and then resign from the office which you have sorely abused.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Edward V. Hiskes
    WSBA #8322
    US Citizen

    P.S. You did one thing right though. You resisted the temptation to engage in Viewpoint Discrimination by censoring my remarks out of this public forum. That save me the filing fee
    in Federal District Court.

  5. Edward V. Hiskes

    Nothing in my remarks suggested that WSBA President Haynes was advocating genocide, which would be obvious upon any careful reading or fair interpretation. The Rwanda analogy merely illustrates a case wherein a previously-disadvantaged group has assumed power, and then used that power to discriminate against another group. I happen to be in the imaginary group that President Haynes wants to single out for adverse comment. This is unfair, since the existence of such a group is an arbitrary, mental construction and its supposed attributes have no particular application to me. You do not like to be lumped into a group called “Asian”, and I do not like to be lumped into a group called “white”. “White” is a group into which bigots want to lump everyone that comes from anywhere on planet earth, ranging from Central Asia to Russia, to France, to Iceland. Use of the term “white” by anyone connected with the WSBA is racist per se, simply because it is so irrational. Use of the term “older” is even more bizarre.

  6. Edward V. Hiskes

    When people are lumped into categories for discussion or adverse comment, as in the phrase “older, white, males”, it is quite clear that sexism is not dead. If sexism and racism were dead,
    reference to the sex and race of particular WSBA members by the WSBA President would not be happening.

    Your comments about improper use of the word “Gentlemen” are perfectly reasonable, and I agree with them, as do most people, including most people in the hated class known as “older, white, males.”

  7. Brad Furlong

    In further Reply to Mr. Hiskes:

    I read your comment concerning WSBA President Robin Haynes’ recent post. While I am pleased you engaged in the discussion, I ask that you consider another perspective.

    I listened to women lawyers report personal stories of abuse from male colleagues and at least one male judge during Robin’s panel. It was shocking to hear how perfectly capable, highly respectable members of my profession had been marginalized and insulted based on their gender and in some cases their gender and race. They were victims of behavior disgusting coming from anyone, let alone from members of a learned profession. In each case, the perpetrator was, as am I, a white, older male exploiting his privilege. This behavior must stop, but it will not end unless called out by women…and men alike. Men who engage in these behaviors are not victims as you suggest; their behavior is reprehensible.

    I can see no link between Robin’s efforts to shine a light on the mistreatment of female lawyers and your complaints about the prosecution of domestic violence. While that aspect of our legal system may need reform as you suggest, labeling the President of our Bar “mindless” will not change anything. Such comments are insulting, are contrary to WSBA standards of conduct and have no place in discussions among legal professionals. I suggest that you consider offering Robin an apology for this unfortunate choice of words.

    Brad Furlong, WSBA #12924
    WSBA President-Elect

  8. Catherine Clark

    While I certainly agree that women (feminist or not) are capable of domestic violence and harassment as anyone (look here for an example http://nypost.com/2016/11/29/assistant-da-arrested-for-wiretapping-to-spy-on-nypd-love-interest/ ), I have a hard time equating the leadership and opinions of President Haynes with the genocide that occurred in Rwanda or in any other place. To suggest that President Haynes’ statements are a call to genocide of the older white male within the legal profession not only trivializes what happened to any victim of genocide it also misses the point.

    The practice of law is a competitive and a conflict based business. It has, as history tells us, been heavily populated by white males (a look of the historical photos of all of the Washington Supreme Court is but one example). In my lifetime, however, that make up had begun to change. The doors have opened to men and women of every ethnic background, gender identity, racial group or some other protected class. Thus, competition has increased raising the standard on us all (Coach Carroll would no doubt approve).

    The mentors in my professional life have all been white males. I am forever grateful to them. Without their guidance and support I would not have the career I have in my practice area(s). While I have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, it was never at the hand of an older white male. However, there are scores of women and men who have been harassed by an older white male.

    Certainly, I have been insulted and slighted by an older white male. And older white females. And older men and women of all races. That comes with the territory as we are in a competitive and conflict based industry. However, to be called a “feisty Asian woman,” or anything like it, goes well beyond an insult or a slight and right into the cesspool of racism, xenophobia, sexism and misogyny.

    I applaud President Haynes’ leadership. She is merely reminding us all that the practice of law should represent the composition of our society and not focus on just one group as it historically has.

  9. Edward V. Hiske

    Correction: Last sentence should read “It deserves unreserved censure.” The WSBA needs to put an editing function on this board.

    And while I am on this topic, I also want to report the very unfortunate impact this “victim” mentality pushed into our jurisprudence has had upon black males who get caught up with the domestic violence industry. The mindless, feminist, “victim” approach taken by people such as
    President Hayes has resulted in a family court system that is completely biased against males in general, and against African and Hispanic heterosexual males in particular. If you want to be enlightened, just spend a few hours watching what happens to minority males who show up for the domestic relations calendar in King County. Typically, they are banned from visitation with their children until they agree to attend “domestic violence classes.”

    However, these are not really “classes’. Rather, the attendees ( the majority of whom are Black and Hispanic) are forced to “confess” to acts of domestic violence in front of a group, even if they have previously stated that they engaged in no such acts, and even if no court has ever so found. They are also forced to write weekly letters to their “victims”, i.e. the accusing female, under pain of never graduating from the course and being permitted unsupervised visitation. They even have stool pigeons who monitor what attendees say to each other during bathroom breaks, so that they can be confronted with any negative statements about the instructor when class reconvenes. This format of “instruction”, which owes a lot to the Maoist self-criticism model, is mandated by state regulations, which the domestic violence industrial-complex has apparently been able to lobby into WAC.

    Of course, commonly-accepted statistics indicate that about 40% of domestic violence is committed by females. Are females violent? The example of the Rwandan genocide suggests that the answer is a yes. Rwanda is also an example of the previous “victims” of discrimination, in that case the Hutu Tribe, turning upon and attacking their previous oppressors, the Tutsi Tribe. I think people like President Haynes are doing the same thing to “older, white, males” (her phrase), following the example of the Hutu bigots in Rwanda.

  10. Edward V. Hiske

    I was also the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. My boss started massaging my shoulders and making inappropriate suggestions almost immediately upon arrival. Sometimes the boss would just out and out ask for sex. This lasted for years. At one point, I decided to put a large photograph of my spouse on the wall, to suggest that I was already taken. That was no help. However, I did get harassed from other employees who seemed to object to the fact that my spouse was an African. This harassment came primarily from from African-Americans.

    One time I had to go to department headquarters in another state for a meeting. When I got there, I was told that a very senior executive wanted to meet with me. I was mystified as to the purpose of the meeting, since I had no particular business with him. At the meeting it became even clearer that I had no business with him. Rather, he did a lot of hinting about getting into a sexual relationship. It was a very uncomfortable situation.

    Did I mention that my boss was female? My experience is that feminist advocates and racial minorities can be just as guilty of harassment as anyone. It is almost as if they feel entitled to take in-kind revenge against white males, 95% of whom are just low-level working people, who are not and never will be “equity partners”, “board members”, or the organizers of CLE presentations.

    My view is that the anti-male, or anti-white approach, or anti-old people approach taken by leaders such as President Haynes is itself the worst kind of bigotry, worse because it is being publicly preached to us from a person who is in a position of authority. I deserves unreserved censure.

  11. Amanda Peters

    I think most of us have been told sexism is dead. I maintain it is pervasive and sometimes subtle. This is a story from today, 11/9/16. I belong to a nationwide association of workers’ comp attorneys. There are quite a few women in this organization. There have been 5 women presidents and the president-elect is a woman. We have a list serve. One attorney addresses his emails to “Gentlemen.” I emailed him a few weeks ago to let him know there are women on the list, and that we notice the way he starts off his emails. I believe my tone to be almost jovial in that email. I got no response. A few days later, he again sent an email addressed “Gentlemen.” I again emailed him directly and was more blunt. I believe I said the salutation was offensive. Again, no response. Today, the day after the country refused to elect a woman president, the guy did it again. This time, I emailed the CEO of the organization (who happens to be a woman). I have not received a response, but I expect it to be forgotten or not formally addressed. This is why there is still a problem. Everyone assumes the person means well. He doesn’t.

  12. Ann-Marie Evans

    Several years ago, I was involved in a big hot mess of a case that had disputed liability, multiple parties (3 car collision) and 5 attorneys. All of the attorneys were men except for me. On the day that we were supposed to receive our trial dates, one of the other plaintiff’s attorneys walked in and said good morning to the male attorney I was sitting with and then pretended not to know me (an insincere “I don’t believe we’ve met” even though we had met numerous times at numerous depositions). The other 2 male attorneys walk in, same thing – good morning to the other men, handshakes, but not to me. We get through the hearing and go out to the hallway. A well known attorney/bully from one of the big insurance companies said he thought I could go (leave). I said no – he reluctantly continued the conversation intentionally talking over my head (literally not making eye contact with me or in any way making me feel included). When I got back to the office, my boss asked how are you? I had an embarrassing breakdown (partially because of the morning interaction and partially because my case was a big hot mess). He was of course the opposite of these attorneys. A few months later, we were at mediation. The mediator told my client what a great attorney my boss was (even though I had done all the work). But this time, I wasn’t willing to let it go. I said, “Thank you Mr. so and so.” He fell all over himself apologizing and then told my client what a great attorney I am….seriously!

  13. Catherine Yalung

    Thank you for opening the door to a frank and honest discussion. We all have stories and they all have similar themes. They involve situations where we were made to feel insignificant, small, foolish, and powerless. But having said that, there have been many really outstanding men who have believed in us, championed for us, and pushed us to soldier on. Men like these have a critical voice in this discussion.

  14. Deborah Gates

    I graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1979. I will post later tonight. I will have to narrow down my multiple experiences of sexual discrimination, harassment, and other related conduct over the 37 years as a lawyer. I practiced in Washington DC, in downtown Seattle, in Alaska and I was the first woman Vice President of a large oil company (Valvoline was one of the company’s better known products.) I am very glad that this subject is under discussion. Kudos to all who began and continued the conversation.

  15. Brad Furlong

    Hats off to Robin for placing these issues front and center. The audience for this forum could have included more men. Men in our profession, especially leaders in the Bar, and male members of the judicial system must take part in these discussions, must be leaders for change and equity and must become allies for women and other under-represented persons.

    Brad Furlong
    President-Elect, WSBA

  16. Robin Haynes

    Thanks for sharing your story, Ruth! I hope more women share their stories. I will share this story that will be part of an upcoming blog post. At the Apex Awards on September 28, 2016, the Chief Justice swore me in as WSBA President. After that, I was able to give a speech about really whatever I wanted. I used it as a chance to talk about institutionalized sexism. I thought it was pretty subtle, but my mid-70 year old father said, after the speech, “I believe all the old, white men in the bar hate you now” (he is an old white man–and I did get a standing ovation).

    That said, an older man and WSBA leader, who was in the front row of tables during my speech talked to my parents after the event with this exchange:

    Bar Leader: You must be so proud of Robin for being WSBA President. We are so excited to have her. She’s so pretty.

    Robin’s Dad: I didn’t realize that was a qualification for the position. #micdrop

  17. Ruth Laura Edlund

    Here is my story.

    It was 1984. I was 26 years old, and looked it, fresh out of law school, going into Kings County Divorce Court, Brooklyn, New York, which is tough and insular turf. Some Manhattan lawyers hire local counsel when they venture there. My fancy Wall Street firm sent me there on a pro bono matter. They might have been trying to toughen me up.

    I appeared in front of an old judge whose last name was Imperato (this detail is important) who was having difficulty pronouncing my last name, which at the time was Piekarska (it’s Polish). He said to me, ON THE RECORD, IN A FULL COURTROOM:

    “Counsel, are you single or married?”

    I just stared at him blankly until he said impatiently, “Well, come on, counsel, are you single or married?”

    I responded–as a 26-year-old, I didn’t yet have the wherewithal to respond in any other way–that I was single, and he said:

    “You should find a nice boy to marry. A nice boy with a name like Russo.” Rolling his “r” with gusto.

    What then came out of my own mouth was, “Your Honor, I’ve been looking for a man named Smith for years.” And I went on with my argument.

    To this day I do not know where that came from, but it’s one of my proudest moments. I wish I’d ordered the transcript.

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