Sunday, March 19, 2006

Because We Don't Look Like Them

New York Times: Why Do So Few Women Reach the Top of Big Law Firms?

Duh. Big law firms are partnerships, and those partnerships are almost all male. They hire people they feel comfortable with: people like themselves. And men aren't out there looking for self-knowledge. If you don't hit them over the head with their passive discriminatory ways, they don't see it.

I was the only woman lawyer in my 10-lawyer law firm for five long years. I got along with all my fellow attorneys, and half or more of them would say they were my friends. But they excluded me in many ways, large and small. From their jovial calls to start attorney meetings 'OK, boys, what's on the agenda today'; to not inviting me out to lunch, or to golf, or for drinks; to paying me less and telling me my pay was the same. I was different, and alone, and I was always aware of that, even if they weren't.

I had my revenge. I took a pro bono sex discrimination case, settled it, and got local and national press. Before my afternoon of press conferences and photographers and interviews, I went in to my managing partner's office, ostensibly to go over my talking points for the day. [Democrats take note: The message is the message.] But I had a personal agenda.

After going through my press points, I said, I have just one question I don't know how to answer. When a journalist asks me, 'If you're a discrimination lawyer, why are you the only female lawyer in your law firm?', what do I say?

There was a very long silence. His face reddened, alarmingly. He sputtered, and came back at my very angrily. They didn't discriminate. There was no intent. That was ridiculous.

I didn't go into my litany of complaints. I just said, I don't think a really good journalist will be satisfied with that answer. And I left, because the Boston Globe was in the reception area, and I had a busy afternoon ahead of me.

The next day the managing partner came in, said he thought about it the night before, accepted my complaint, and asked me how things should change.

Things changed, and I did eventually make partner.

I was lucky, and unusual. Established law firms are not hospitable environments for women lawyers.

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