Now More Than Ever
Shortly after last year’s presidential election, The American Lawyer featured an article in which well-known lawyer David Boies reflected on the election results. He offered many interesting observations, but one stood out for me and continues to give me pause. As “bad news,” he noted the fact that women are not as invested in their own progress as other groups that have suffered discrimination. Because women are in the majority, he thinks they may have a sense of complacency and remain subject to environmental influences like tradition, marriage, and the views of their husbands. I don’t find his complacency observation accurate with respect to women lawyers I know, particularly those in Lawyers Club! But, does his observation ring true for women as a whole in this country? I’m not sure.
What I am sure about, is that environmental influences, social norms, and structural barriers prevent women, (lawyers and others), from achieving gender equality in our society. This notion was underscored at the recent Lawyers Club luncheon where the results of the Annual Equality Survey were released and discussed. While there was some good news in the survey, the data confirmed the bad news we already knew: women are not being treated equally in the legal community. The panel discussion at the luncheon addressed a number of strategies and solutions devised by law firms and public sector agencies to address gender inequality in San Diego’s legal community.
The strategy that got the biggest applause was an employer-paid nanny for two women associates at a small law firm. While I also applaud this employer’s effort, it reminded me that childcare policies in this country, (or the lack thereof), create a huge structural barrier that exacerbates gender discrimination in the workplace. Unlike in many western-European countries, childcare in the U.S. is a purely private concern to be addressed by parents, and most often by mothers. Making childcare a collective responsibility should be a crucial initiative in the quest for gender equality. Ensuring that day care is available to families (of all incomes) will ensure that women can equally participate in the workplace and advance to their full potential. Asking women to compensate for the biases of tradition or social norms should no longer be acceptable.
Although the current political winds may not be with us on these issues, we must nevertheless commit ourselves to increasing awareness of these barriers and continuing the dialogue for eventual solutions. Now, more than ever, we need to chase the last wave of feminism.
Molly Tami, who serves as the Assistant Dean for Career & Professional Development at USD School of Law, is passionate about advancing women in the legal profession.