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Lawyers of San Diego is a specialty bar association committed to advancing the status of women in the law and society. We use this space to share articles written about Lawyers Club events and programs and items of interest to our members which are relevant to our mission. The opinions outlined in content published on the Lawyers Club of San Diego blog are those of the authors and not of Lawyers Club. All members are encouraged to participate respectfully in discussions regarding the topics posted on the blog. Guest writers are welcome.

 

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Guest Blog: LGBTQ Rights Up For Interpretation?

Posted By Kimberly Ahrens, Wednesday, March 14, 2018
 

LGBTQ Rights Up For Interpretation?

 

This past June, I fell in love with Tennessee after visiting a friend who moved there a couple years back. We spent an entire day floating down the Harpeth River—enjoying the slow pace and dense lush forest that hugs the riverbank. After our canoeing adventure, we gathered around a fire pit in her backyard, watched a blanket of fireflies illuminate the earth around us, and discussed how different life is in Tennessee compared to Southern California.

 

The conversation turned to the question of whether my wife and I would ever consider moving to Tennessee. As a lesbian couple, it is impossible for us to not consider the level of LGBTQ acceptance when we consider moving to, or even visiting, another state or country. And, Tennessee is a prime example of a state that does not have any explicit law prohibiting discrimination against me based on my sexual orientation.  

 

Without explicit federal protection from workplace discrimination, LGBTQ families like mine are left at the mercy of state non-discrimination laws and shifting interpretations of federal law. A simple decision to move to a state void of any statewide anti-discrimination laws, coupled with recent federal government position reversals, could easily result in an inability to find a job merely because of the gender of my spouse.

 

Over the years, LGBTQ people have been forced to rely on a hodgepodge of regulations, state laws, federal guidance opinions, and local ordinances to create a patchwork of protection against discrimination. Unfortunately, this path can be unpredictable and unreliable because many states do not have any anti-discrimination laws and federal agencies have complete discretion to rescind, revise, or rollback their guidance opinions.

 

I look forward to learning more about recent changes to the interpretation of LGBTQ protections under federal civil rights laws and pending legislation at an upcoming MCLE panel discussion coordinated by Lawyers Club's LGBTQ Committee and Tom Homann LGBT Law Association (Friday, March 16, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. – register here to join us).  

 

The panel will include esteemed speakers, Amanda Goad, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and Alexander Chen, Equal Justice Works Fellow, National Center for Lesbian Rights. They will provide an in-depth review of recent federal government position reversals on sexual discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, religion as a license to discriminate, transgender military service, and more.

 

After the panel discussion, guests are welcome to attend a reception where we can mingle and continue talking about these important topics.

 

Kimberly Ahrens is the founder of The Ahrens Law Office and is the current chair of Lawyers Club’s LGBTQ Committee.

 

Tags:  discrimination  equality  guest blogger  LCB  LGBTQ 

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Life Imitates Law: Feisty Boys, Hysterical Dudes

Posted By Bobbi-Jo Dobush, Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Feisty Boys, Hysterical Dudes

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the words used to describe migrants – words that evoke a sense of fear, of disaster – stay with us as we learn about issues of migration and color our perception thereof. The post sparked some conversation and questions about the words typically used to describe women, including professional women, and how language choice affects each of our lives (including our careers). I’ve been doing some digging on this and I want to share these resources, which range from scholarly to smile-inducing:

 

Adult Female Humans = Women.

  • To paraphrase actress Mayim Bialik’s video, one can normally recognize a girl by the fact that she is under 18 and may live with her parents. Being CEO of a company or a mother is a decent indicator that the person in question is, in fact, a woman, not a girl. In line with my previous post, Bialik gets that “language sets expectations.” This is a fun watch. 
  • Gina M. Florio’s 2016 Bustle Article posits that calling women “girls” is infantilizing, creepy, and perpetuates an obsession with female youth. On top of that, we rarely call men “boys” and calling women “girls” prevent us from treating each other as equals. 

Feisty Boys, Hysterical Dudes. 

Gendered Language Bias in the Workplace.

  • In a study analyzing the language of hundreds of performance reviews from professional and technology services companies women were 2.5 times as likely to be called out for aggressive communication styles as men and twice as likely praised for their teamwork or collaboration than men.
  • This problem is not confined to the law: a 2016 Nature Geoscience article found that women are about half as likely as their male counterparts to be described as excellent in recommendation letters, whether the letters are written by women or men. 

Additional Resources:

Please comment and let your fellow Lawyers Club members and me know what you think: Are we perpetuating sexism by refusing to recognize it in its daily forms? Have you ever called anyone groomzilla? (I have, for the record.)   

 

Bobbi-Jo Dobush believes that sharing our diverse passions—for example the arts, the ocean, or salsa (the condiment)—can positively influence our practices. 

Tags:  art  awareness  bias  discrimination  equality  girl  language  LCB 

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Life Imitates Law: Words Can Convey or Destroy Dignity

Posted By Bobbi-Jo Dobush, Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Life Imitates Law: Words Can Convey or Destroy Dignity

 

Bombastic litigators, craftsman brief writers, and shrewd contract drafters all stake their clients’ best interests on choosing the right words in the search for just outcomes. So, as much or more than to anyone else, lawyers should care how we refer to other humans, especially those most vulnerable.

 

Flood, wave, swarm – these words evoke a sense of fear, of disaster. Reading headlines with such words, I struggle to remember if should get under the desk or into a door-jam.  But these aren’t headlines about tsunamis, earthquakes, or hurricanes. Instead, a quick news search of articles in recent months comes up with titles like “Flood of Illegal Immigrants Continues at Texas Border,” “Illegals Pour Across Border Before Trump's Inauguration,” and “Illegals Swarm in.” After reading those, who wouldn’t be scared of migrants?

 

Helen Zaltzman, that’s who. Zaltzman fearlessly confronts language on a bi-weekly basis in her word-nerd podcast The Allusionist, Small Adventures in Language. (Catch me on my morning commute soaking in some etymology.) Allusionist Episode 53, The Away Team, is all about how terms used to describe migrants have become increasingly negative over time. The episode focuses on Britain, but is equally applicable to our side of the Atlantic. 

 

Zaltman and I are both offended by the misuse of words in the migration context. Many of us refer to fellow humans by category (refugee, asylee, unaccompanied minor). Propaganda and migration specialist Emma Briant opined that doing so gives “preference [for] how officials are sorting [people] over their very basic humanity.” To make matters worse, terms that were once neutral have become negative. Since when do “refugees” or “asylum seekers” (people who are, by definition, escaping persecution) invoke skepticism and not sympathy? Also—and this should really trouble us as lawyers—the term illegal gets tossed about lightly in this context. Most migrants have broken no laws, and even those who have are not “illegal” because, to quote Briant again, “people cannot be illegal.” 

 

Zaltzman, interviewing novelist and editor Nikesh Shukla, further highlights how often migration status is used as a proxy for race. All over the English-speaking world, wealthy or middle class whites who have chosen to live abroad are “expats” not “immigrants.” We never talk about a “swarm” of wealthy white people (well, maybe talking about Coachella, but that’s a conversation for another time.)

 

The Away Team ends with a reminder that most words in the English language are themselves immigrants (French, Latin, Germanic, Greek, and Scandinavian). Zaltzman warns that without such immigrant words, “you lose at least 60% of modern English plus most scientific and technological vocabulary.”   

Many Allusionist episodes are about fun stuff like sex (Episodes 50-51, Under the Covers) or manners on either side of the Atlantic (Episode 33, Please); however, there are other great listens with a focus on equality like Episode 12, Pride, or Episode 52, Sanctuary.

Bobbi-Jo Dobush believes that sharing our diverse passions—for example the arts, the ocean, or salsa (the condiment)—can positively influence our practices. 

 

Tags:  art  awareness  bias  discrimination  equality  immigration  language  LCB  podcasts  word choice 

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Chasing the Last Wave: "Now More Than Ever"

Posted By Molly T. Tami , Monday, January 30, 2017

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.             

Tags:  Chasing the Last Wave  childcare  discrimination  equality  feminism  feminist  gender  LCB  legal profession  now more than ever  structural barriers  women 

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Chasing the Last Wave

Posted By Molly Tami, Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The concept of “choice” runs deep throughout the three waves of feminism. During the first wave (late 19th to early 20th centuries), women fought for the legal right to make social, political and economic choices that critically affected their lives. Hard to believe that women in this country could not even vote until 1920!   Second wave feminism (1960’s continuing in the 1990’s) saw women exercising choice to work outside the home and in fields traditionally the province of men. The fight for a woman’s “right to choose” and control her reproductive rights and health also dominated during the second wave. (Women continue to battle today to preserve those hard-earned choices.)     

 

During the period of third wave feminism, (early 90’s to present), the rhetoric of “choice” arose in another context as women (predominantly professional women) struggled to deal with the “work/family conflict.” Women discovered it was not easy to have it all. The resulting “mommy wars” pitted women against each other, as conflict arose between women who chose to be homemakers versus those who chose to pursue careers. You may remember the controversy around Hillary’s statement that “I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided was to fulfill my profession.” This conflict continues to threaten feminist coalitions. (And it glosses over the fact that most women, because of financial realities, lack the choice between working and staying home to raise a family--a larger topic for another day.)        

 

Many have tried to unpack the notion of “choice” when it comes to women making decisions that affect their advancement in the legal profession.  We’ve all heard stories about women “choosing” to leave their firm or stepping off the fast track because of the pull of home/kids or because they feel too stressed out to do it all.   Professor Joan Williams and her colleagues at the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings recently published an extensive report entitled ’Opt Out’ or Pushed Out? How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict.”  In that report, the authors analyze the “opt out” story and tell “the untold story of why women leave the workforce.” While the stories in the press pinpoint the pull of family life as the main reason women choose to quit or opt-out, Williams cites a recent study showing that 86% of women cite workplace “pushes” such as inflexible jobs. The report’s overriding conclusion?  Women quit because they encounter “maternal wall bias”- gender bias triggered by motherhood.  Such women are not freely opting out- they are being pushed out by family responsibilities discrimination.

 

Williams’ report highlights that the press invariably focuses on women after they leave the workforce and before they are divorced (in a country with a 50% divorce rate). I recently talked with a lawyer facing divorce after decades of marriage to a successful high-earning professional. She had always remained involved in her profession, but had foregone major career opportunities to support her husband in his career and serve as the primary caregiver for their children. Although she had a job at the time of the divorce proceedings, she asked for partial income equalization (i.e., spousal support) to retain her financial security. Her husband conceded that she supported him in his career and cared for their kids, but he claimed that she made the “choice” not to pursue more lucrative opportunities during their marriage. So in other words, it’s her own fault that she will be less financially secure than he after the divorce because of her “choices.”  I shared in her outrage at that assertion.     

 

So what’s the takeaway here? I say we quit talking about women making the “choice” to get off track or opt-out completely. We need to reject using the “choice” rhetoric to explain or validate (to ourselves and others) the hard decisions we make for the benefit of our families but to the detriment of our careers and economic security. When it comes to having “free choice” around career advancement, we are definitely still “chasing the last wave.” Let’s resolve to catch it rather than drown in it.      

This blog post was authored by Molly Tami



Tags:  career  choice  discrimination  feminism  feminist  gender  last wave  LCB  legal profession  opt-out 

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Guest Blog: "Consider the numbers, but let the stories move you"

Posted By Angelica Sciencio, Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, July 19, 2016
I have always strolled peacefully at the intersection of white and black, foreign and homegrown, poor and prosperous. I have heard about many injustices but experienced few.  So like you, I usually scroll through my news feed glancing over lives lost, vocalized racism, masked xenophobia and just plain bigotry. I usually feel sad but somewhat detached from that reality, so I shrug and move on to the puppy videos. But not today.

Today, I cried. I saw the video of Philando Castile bleeding in front of his girlfriend, a child, a cop, and a camera phone. I read about the protests, police officers getting shot and I felt extreme sadness. But what took me over the edge to tears were the excusatory comments from my “friended”, the news headlines, the opportunistic political advances and above all, my own inaction.

I thought about posting #blacklivesmatter on my feed, but I wondered if people would think I was playing victim. You see, I am a foreign-born-woman-of-mixed-race.  My black father was a policeman, who was murdered by a white guy.

Despite that drama, I have always lived in this perpetual middle of the road that has shielded me from extremes. I am black enough to have been made fun of for my hair and to prevent closet-racist friends from using slurs in my presence, but not too black to be stopped and frisked for no reason, to be thrown in jail for minor violations or to be shot in my car. I am foreign enough to have worked long hours at various undesirable jobs for minimum wage and will probably forever mess up my prepositions, but I am not too foreign to make people anxious when I board a plane or to be called a terrorist because of the way I dress or the language I speak. I am poor enough to get my yoga classes on Groupon and to buy dog food on sale, but not too poor to be chastised for using government assistance to feed myself and my family.  I am womanly enough to have been called “doll” and “love” by former male bosses, to have been told to smile more times then I can count, but not a woman who was prevented from getting an education and trying to succeed in a male-dominated profession. And thank heavens I am straight for that I have always been allowed to love and marry (and subsequently divorce) whoever I damned pleased. Don’t get me wrong: it hasn’t been easy, but it has been possible.

My point is: I am part of pretty much every minority group out there, and I don’t even understand what they go through. But I try. When (sometimes unwillingly) I enter into discrimination discussions with more privileged, sheltered friends, I feel the need to formulate arguments based on statistics, logical reasoning and contradictions by the other side. But maybe we shouldn’t have to bring up the numbers to convince. Perhaps, we should just listen and give the other side the benefit of the doubt. 

If you have been blessed with opportunities to succeed, and are tempted to believe that everyone in the world has had the same, do yourself a favor lest you sound like a fool: consider the historical oppression of certain people, the widespread institutional discrimination of certain groups and most importantly, listen to the stories. Then, concoct and implement your own moral affirmative action: give those who have traditionally had less (money, opportunities, freedom, respect, rights) just a little extra love and support.  If we shoot for equity, not equality, we might not need hashtags to shine a light on systemic racism and other inequities. For now, however, #blacklivesmatter, #equalpay, #reproductiverights, #stopbullying, #loveislove. 


This post was authored by Angelica Sciencio, an Immigration Attorney at Law Office of Angelica Sciencio and co-chair of the Diverse Women’s Committee. 

 

Tags:  advocacy  discrimination  diverse women's committee  diversity  guest blogger  LCB  race  social media 

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3/1/2019
19th Annual COC Spring Read-In

3/8/2019
International Women's Day Luncheon

5/9/2019
Save the Date! LC Annual Dinner

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