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Lawyers Club 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. Guidelines for writers may be found on the Leadership Resources page.

 

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Chasing the Last Wave: "Rising Above the Gap"

Posted By Molly Tami, Monday, August 8, 2016
Rising Above the Gap

Much has been written about the “confidence gap” for women. Many commentators have noted that men often overvalue their strengths while women too frequently undervalue theirs. (Gender stereotyping, of course, which nevertheless seems true.) Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why women lawyers (and women in general) lack the confidence of their male counterparts. It’s not that difficult to understand how we got here. 

 

Historically, women were made to feel “lesser” or unworthy. When my 92 year-old mother graduated as valedictorian of her high school class, she was told that she achieved that status because the boys “did not apply themselves.” (Sadly, she did not go on to college and realize her dream of becoming a nurse.) When I graduated from the same high school more than 30 years later, the tradition was to include the top five students as speakers in the graduation ceremony. That year the top five graduates were all girls. While I was invited to speak, numbers four and five in the class were replaced with boys lower in class rank. None of us thought to question that at the time. While women have overcome many such barriers throughout the three waves of feminism, we still struggle to confidently aspire to top leadership positions.  

 

A New York Times piece entitled Overcoming the Confidence Gap for Women cited a study on women’s attitudes toward leadership which found that nearly two-thirds of the 3,000 professional and college age women surveyed expressed a desire to become senior leaders. But only 40% were able to envision themselves as leaders. Eighty-six percent of the women surveyed had been taught to be “nice to others” growing up and to do well in school, but less than 50% received leadership lessons. Interestingly, receiving praise from mentors and leaders was the single biggest factor influencing women’s perceptions of themselves in the study, more so than receiving raises or promotions. 

 

I was reminded of this “gap” when I attended a recent event honoring a colleague for her outstanding leadership. She received much praise and adulation at the event. When I emailed her to again congratulate her on this recognition, she replied thanking me but wrote that she “really didn’t deserve it.” But of course she did! And I told her so the next time I saw her. I would like to think that I personally do not suffer from this “confidence gap” but in truth, I probably do. While I strive constantly to be an unapologetically self-assured female role model for my daughter and our students, I occasionally find myself downplaying my own achievements and abilities.   

 

So how do we combat the confidence gap for women in our profession? I urge us all to sing our own praises and those of our women colleagues, gently correct women friends who minimize their achievements, stop apologizing when we disagree or express our opinions, and do whatever else we can to validate women’s successes. When it comes to overcoming women’s confidence gap in the legal profession, we are definitely still “chasing the last wave.” Let’s resolve to rise above the gap and hold our heads high!     

 

This blog was authored by Molly Tami
Molly Tami serves as the Assistant Dean for Career & Professional Development at USD School of Law. She previously designed and taught a course on Law, Gender and the Work/Family Conflict and is passionate about advancing women in the legal profession.              



Tags:  career  Chasing the Last Wave  confidence gap  feminism  feminist  gender  last wave  legal profession 

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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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Trial by Fire: "What's the issue, hun?"

Posted By Mallory Holt, Monday, July 18, 2016
Updated: Monday, July 18, 2016

 

"What's the issue, hun?"

It goes without saying that first year associates often find themselves in situations they are unsure how to handle. Some are expected, like the hesitation that comes with meeting and conferring at your first deposition. Others are not, such as finding yourself off balance because you lack the proper response—or any response at all—to an older (and presumably wiser) attorney’s disrespectful commentary. When I have encountered these scenarios, the disparity in years of practice between us complicates the situation and my ability to address the conduct.

 

During a recent phone call to opposing counsel I was repeatedly and exclusively addressed as “hun.” Having never been an “I am woman, hear me roar” type of gal, I was taken aback both by the fact that someone was addressing me in such a disrespectful manner and that it offended me as much as it did. Needless to say, I could not think of the appropriate response during that phone call.

 

To help develop an approach for addressing similar situations in the future, I reached out to strong female attorneys who have mentored me in the past. I sought their advice on whether these issues are worth addressing and, if so, how to go about it. Their guidance yielded the following considerations:

 

  • These scenarios should be addressed professionally, remembering that our legal community is very small. Do not make a scene, reprimand them in public, or become overly confrontational. Politely tell them they can address you by your last name, and similarly, never address opposing counsel by their first name unless invited to do so.
  • Keep your client’s best interest in mind at all times. Will correcting the situation put you at ease so that you can more effectively represent your client? Or, will confronting the issue distract you from the task at hand? Choose the course of conduct that will serve to advance your efforts in the case.
  • Recognize that the comment may be an attempt to bully, rather than a truly sexist remark. In an effort to assert dominance or to control a situation, disrespectful remarks may be made based on sex, age, experience, or appearance. If opposing counsel is trying to get under your skin and throw you off your game, confronting the issue may validate their efforts and encourage continued remarks.
  • There is no categorical “strong” response. Commitment to effective representation is the “strong” response. This may come in the form of addressing the remark or allowing it to roll off your back, unacknowledged. 

 

While the “appropriate” response will be a personal, case-by-case determination, I feel prepared to more confidently confront these circumstances with these tips to guide my way.


This blog post was authored by Mallory Holt

Tags:  associate  disrespect  feminism  feminist  lawyer  LCB  professionalism  trial by fire  young attorney 

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Chasing the Last Wave

Posted By Molly Tami, Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Gloria Steinem contends that gender is probably the most restricting force in American life. Many believe that it is certainly the most restricting force in the legal profession. To be sure, we’ve come a long way since former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor graduated third in her class at Stanford in 1953, but the only job she was offered was legal secretary.  And since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Notorious RBG!) received not one offer from a law firm despite tying for first in her graduating class from Columbia Law in 1959. (She instead accepted a clerkship with a federal judge.) Those were definitely not the good old days for women in the law. As a result of the feminist movement, we’ve come a long way, but we all agree that we are not there yet. We need the “last wave” of feminism to get us there. 

 

A very short history lesson on the feminist movement in the U.S. sets the stage. Feminism, in its different waves, arose to achieve political, social, and economic equality for women.  First wave feminism, in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, focused on suffrage and other legal rights. Second wave feminism, which began in the 1960’s and continued in the 1990’s, was a reaction against the renewed imposition of domesticity on women after WWII, and focused on women in the workplace (as well as sexuality, family and reproductive rights). Third wave feminism, dating from the early 90’s to the present, found a more diverse group of women with a diverse set of identities challenging gender stereotypes and continuing to fight for many of the causes of the second-wavers. Some feminist scholars are now envisioning a fourth wave to reframe the movement.

 

A pivotal moment on the road to gender equality occurred in 1972 with the passage of Title IX.  As the result of that groundbreaking law, the doors to law schools and the legal profession were flung wide open. Benefiting from that development and riding the second wave, I graduated from Berkeley Law in 1983. I never imagined at that time that gender would shape my experience in the profession. While by many measures I have enjoyed a successful legal career, I have no doubt that gendered work arrangements and gender roles restricted my potential just as they continue to restrict the potential of many women lawyers today.   

 

In my current role, I advise both men and women law students about their careers and professional development.They graduate from law school on generally equal footing. But when I consider the various statistics on the current status of women in the profession, I worry that their paths will diverge. So I plan to explore in this blog various aspects of the state of women in the profession along with the challenges that prevent women from being equal participants in all sectors of our profession. I’ll tackle issues like wage disparity, lack of women’s retention and advancement in law firms, the work/family conflict and the like. I won’t be presenting anything novel nor will I necessarily have solutions. But we must keep talking about these issues if we are to ever solve them.  


When it comes to gender equality in the legal profession, we are definitely still “chasing the last wave.” Let’s chase it together.  

This blog post was authored by Molly Tami

Tags:  advancement  career  challenges  Chasing the Last Wave  equality  feminism  feminist  gender  last wave  LCB  legal profession  Title IX 

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