I attend a lot of conferences for women lawyers, and I am beginning to get invitations to speak at them, too, and I really welcome that. These gatherings present an opportunity for me to do new research, make certain that my existing research is valid, meet other women lawyers and stay current on the subjects of interest to women in our profession. I see a lot of the same speakers at these events, and they are women who have “earned their stripes” and who have instant credibility in the arena of women lawyers. Most of them teach me, and some of them inspire me. But, every once in awhile someone disappoints me.
That happened at a conference a couple of years ago. The subject of the panel discussion was the advancement of women lawyers to positions of management and leadership, and the dismal results of the annual report by the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) had just been presented. That presentation was followed by a lot of discussion about how we can improve the situation for women lawyers, and one of the panelists presented a model that got my attention. It was not that I had not heard it before, bandied about in casual conversation, but this time it was coming from a woman who I thought should have known better.
The premise was that we do not need men to help us solve the problems of retention, opportunities for partnership, equity in salary and myriad other issues that women in law face today. The corresponding attitude was that we can do this without them and that we will do it by putting pressure on law firms through female general counsels of corporate clients—-a sort of “we’ll show them whose got the power” attitude. In other words, we will flex our muscles and threaten to pull the work if the law firms do not comply with our demands for diversity.
Although I understand and respect the power of women general counsel in helping to bring about more diversity in law firms, I disagree with this exclusionary approach, and I said so at the time. I think it is very shortsighted. Are we really going to do to men what we have accused them of doing to us for generations? Are we going to form our own Old Girls Clubs where men cannot gain entrance or have to come in through the kitchen door with the help? Are we going to exclude men from seats at the table because we do not value their opinions or, worse, as reprisal ? I think not.
On the contrary, I think that we need men at the table to make sure that management and leadership hear how difficult the challenges for women are and to educate them about the difficulties in finding satisfactory and lasting solutions. We need the men to take co-ownership of the problems and to have a vested interest in improving conditions and finding solutions.
I am not a male basher in my personal or professional life. I like men, but I certainly realize that they some times do not have much of a clue what our problems feel like. But, I do not think that most of them wish me ill or want to “keep me down”. There are always a few bad ones, but, as grandma used to say, “A few bad apples do not spoil the barrel.” My most important practice mentors were men, and I am realistic enough to understand that they still control most of the legal institutions.
And, there is just no real evidence that men simply don’t care about these issues in this 21st Century. This was demonstrated to me last fall when I participated on an American Bar Association panel about the special challenges to women lawyers. The venue was unusual for that subject, and the audience consisted of about 80 men and 10 women lawyers. Everyone in the room that day was totally attentive—no checking of watches and Iphones—and most of them were seasoned male lawyers. At the conclusion of the conference, the attendees informally voted that panel the best of the two days.
We know that men just don’t get it when it comes to women’s issues, but that is the very reason we want them under the tent. That way, we have a captive audience and can educate and influence. It makes a lot more sense than excluding them. We do that at our own risk.