Today, International Women’s Day celebrates its 100th year. For female lawyers and law students, today may mean mentoring lunches, presentations on succeeding in the legal industry and cocktail parties to celebrate women’s achievements in our field. Events like these are critical for an industry that has no problem attracting women but can’t seem to hold onto them in the higher ranks. According to Catalyst, women composed 44% of the 2008-2009 law school class, and “women make up nearly 1 out of every 2 law firm associates, but only 1 out of every 6 equity partners.”
With an abundant pool of female peers, but few women role models in the partnership, women associates are left wondering why so few women are in the leadership ranks and what that means for them. Addressing why women aren’t at the top and what the new wave of female associates can do to change that is a crucial dialogue. But the conversation shouldn’t be restricted to women associates and partners. How can we move from male-dominated leadership in law firms to a more equal balance of male and female partners if we don’t involve men in the conversations?
On this International Women’s Day and this month of celebrating women’s history, I say we bring men into the loop. Of course, the purpose of many women’s events is to promote mentoring and opportunities for women so that women can build their careers. I’m not saying we should discard these events. But we absolutely should host events on women’s issues that welcome both male and female attendees. When it comes to topics like lack of women leadership, pay disparities and perceptions of female lawyers in the workplace, many women have already heard the discouraging data. But our male colleagues aren’t always as aware of the hurdles women attorneys face, and even if they are supportive of women’s progress, they may not realize the effect leadership and perceptions may have on their female colleagues.
So why not celebrate National Women’s Day with some inclusion? Plan a few events throughout the year that focus on leadership, pay gaps, perceptions and other related topics, and involve men in the discussion. These aren’t just women’s issues—they’re industry issues.
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