Gender Equality: Taking Back the Noun “Lawyer”

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As a past president of South Palm Beach County Florida Association for Women Lawyers, I am humbled to be honored as the recipient of the advocate organization’s 2019 Woman Lawyer of the Year.

Many reading this article are familiar with the sobering statistics regarding gender equality in the legal profession such as the dismal amount of female managing partners, women leaving the legal profession at the peak of their careers, not enough women on the bench, the implicit bias that works against us to move up the ladder. No doubt for those of you, like me, who have been active in the gender equality arena, you are familiar with our echo chamber where these statistics spin around, we talk amongst ourselves, and the needle seems to move SO slowly.

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… we talk amongst ourselves, and the needle seems to move SO slowly.

Then there is the anecdotal information, the stories we share. We laugh and “roll our eyes” about being mistaken for the court reporter, the associate, condescending behavior from opposing counsel — solely because of our gender. When I was in law school, I was an extern in the Cook County State Attorney’s office in Chicago in the appellate division which they actually called “The Mommy Division”. While that was a great place for me at the time, (as I had two children while in law school), thankfully it is not politically correct now. When I did moot court in the federal courthouse in Chicago, women were required to wear skirts and pantyhose and pull back our long hair. It sounds like I am talking about so long ago, but it was only the ’90s.

I agree with Sheryl Sandberg who in her book “Lean In” shares that “whoever has the power, takes over the noun.” Think about that. That’s why we still need to point out and refer to the WOMAN president, the WOMAN judge, the WOMAN managing partner. We need to reach a point where the power is equal, and we don’t need to identify the “WOMAN” in the role.

We need to reach a point where the power is equal, and we don’t need to identify the ‘WOMAN’ in the role.

FAWL exists because we are not yet where we need to be, we have not yet achieved gender equality. One day we will and won’t need organizations such as FAWL to exist, but until that day comes, we must keep pushing the needle forward, lifting each other up, and remember to take time to celebrate our wins on our long journey to gender equality.

It takes time for society to change, and clearly, we have changed. Explicit bias is far less prevalent. I’m not saying it’s equal – and it actually it needs to be equal to attain true gender equality, but we are getting there. Now there are more women than men graduating from law school, more woman are in leadership positions, more women are on the bench. There are more women on the Florida Bar Board of Governors than ever before.

Deep appreciation goes to the women who have paved a path for us, and to the men, the good guys, who work for gender equality. As we celebrate how far we have come, we still need to ask ourselves daily, “What have I personally done as a Local Legal Authority to make a positive change toward gender equality?” Supporting FAWL is a huge win, but each of us must be an “agent of change”… our future generations depend on that.

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