Happy Holidays

This is my last blog of 2020 before I take a deep dive into holiday food preparations and gift wrapping. I will miss my family members who cannot be with us this year, and I will shed a few tears. (I always do, even in the best of years.) I am sure you understand and know that this year will be different for all of us. But I also hope that we all will work hard to experience some merriment.

Some of you will find yourself alone and falling down a bit on the “merry” part, and I am thinking of you. Please know that, in my eyes, you are the most merry. Your merriment shows in your isolation, your social distancing, your masks and your sacrifices. You are showing your love each and every day. You are to be admired and cherished.

So, what are you waiting for? Eat tons of chocolate, paint your nails glittery blue, maximize on beach reads, and watch your favorite holiday rom com. You have been responsible enough. Now pamper yourself and be a bit trivial. You are so deserving.

And don’t forget to reach out to all those who mean so much to you. Make those calls, write those e-mails and texts, be present on social media if that is your thing, and go out on your balcony and wave to your neighbor. What you will get in return is messages of love and caring, just what you need right now.

Be happy, be safe, be well and be hopeful. And I will see you in the new year.

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My New Column for the ABA Journal

My holiday wishes for women lawyers. Hope you enjoy the piece.

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Thought For The Week

“Blessed be the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” Hamilton Wright Mabie

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It’s All About The Women These Days

I am always advocating for capable women, and I love doing it. That includes not just women lawyers, but also women doctors, women business owners, women sales clerks, women astronauts, and women who teach our children. Women have been overlooked for too long, and they deserve the recognition.

But right now, I am particularly enthused for the future of women lawyers. I am seeing women advanced in the judiciary in increasing numbers. I am seeing unprecedented percentages of women lawyers elevated to cabinet positions, and I am seeing women lawyers step up in leading roles in Congress.

For example, earlier this year, we witnessed women lawyers as members of the House of Representatives show incredible professionalism and poise in their various roles during the Trump impeachment trial. It does not matter what side of that issue you were on, and I don’t care. If you are being fair, I know you will agree that those women took their roles seriously and carried their weight. They acted like women we all would be proud to know.

And just recently, we read about a young woman lawyer passing the bar exam under extreme circumstances. She was registered to sit for the California Bar Exam in July, but that exam was rescheduled to September for safety reasons related to the pandemic. That likely was an inconvenience for many test takers, but it was particularly problematic for this one, who, by September, was in the last weeks of her pregnancy. And, as luck would have it, on the first day of the essay exam, her water broke. But, she did not panic. After checking with her medical specialist and getting the green light, she grabbed a few towels and carried on. She finished the session and then hightailed it to the hospital with her husband to give birth to her son. And, on the day after his birth, she took the second day of the essay exam from her hospital bed, stopping only to nurse her baby between sessions. Awesome. Simply awesome.

I can’t resist asking you to consider this. If a man taking the bar exam got a paper cut that was bleeding, would he have performed as well? Likely not. Chances are he would abandon the exam and run to the ER to stop the bleeding. He would be confidant that he could talk himself out of the situation and gain permission to rewrite the exam because of extenuating circumstances. Because that is too often how it often works with men.

But not for women. Women always know that it will be an up hill battle and that they had better come prepared. And they do. To read more about this story, here’s the link including a video interview. Awesome. Simply awesome.

So, hat’s off to the women. This is a trend I hope will continue. It is why I do the work, and it is so gratifying to experience.

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Thought For The Week

“Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.” Matt Biondi, Olympian

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Hurdles to Career Advancement for Women Lawyers

Career advancement is often a challenge for women lawyers. Although laws prohibit gender inequality in the workplace and policies for gender equity have been adopted by law employers, much of the advancement challenge for women is up to them to solve.

The truth underlying the challenge is that career advancement is much harder for most women than for most men, and that certainly is true in the law profession. If it were not true, the percentage of female equity partners would far surpass the 20% that it is today and has been for awhile. While it also is true that some of that low percentage is the result of the choices that women lawyers make in pursuit of work-life balance, there are other factors at work in limiting advancement opportunities for women lawyers.

Some of the struggles for women are laid out in the book How Women Rise by Marshall Goldsmith and Sally Helgesen. Topics explored there include:

  • Reluctance to claim achievements;
  • Expecting others to notice and reward contributions;
  • Building rather than leveraging relationships;
  • Failing to enlist allies;
  • Putting a job before a career plan;
  • Demanding perfection; and
  • Placing too much value on the desire to please.

All of these topics are worth considering in formulating a career plan. All of them can stand in the way of career advancement, and all of them can be painful to address. But you have to do it because no one is going to do it for you. Although a really effective mentor can help you think through some of these issues, you have to do the heavy lifting.

But there is another challenge that is so critical that it makes some of the others pale by comparison because it is so hard to overcome. My friend Andie Kramer and her husband and co-author Al Harris, two lawyers in Chicago, have addressed this problem in their book Breaking Through Bias. In that book and in their blogs at andieandal.com, they discuss how women seeking to advance in traditionally male fields, especially, face two particular types of biases, negative bias and agentic bias.

Negative bias for women derives from traditional feminine stereotypes that a woman is or should be “communal,” meaning warm, caring and gentle. Such women are seen as pleasant but unsuited for jobs requiring competence, competitiveness and authority.

Even more important, if a woman violates those traditional female stereotypes and behaves with authority, competence and independence, she is likely to be seen as aggressive, abrasive and bossy. And we all know what other “B word” will be ascribed to her then. This is called agentic bias and it comes with some harsh realities.

Andie and Al call dealing with these biases and their realities the Goldilocks Dilemma. Not too soft, but not too hard. Not too hot, but not too cold. And the double bind created by the intersection of negative and agentic biases is one you need to understand. Without understanding it, you will be unnecessarily handicapped in your efforts toward advancement and leadership.

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