Not long ago, I climbed on my soapbox about the lack of diversity among speakers at a recent technology conference I attended. Here’s the picture that prompted that post.
At the risk of revisiting this, I have had three recent experiences that brought to mind related issues of women, how men treat and view them and more particularly what the legal profession is or should be doing about our embarrassing women and diversity problem.
First, I had a conversation a few days ago a female colleague and friend that I respect, have had a lot of laughs and serious conversations with and who views the world in a no bullshit kind of way. In short, a kindred soul. Some time ago she had ended a relationship, and after reflecting on it, she told me she had concluded she was sick of men and their power plays and mind games. (Actually, her assessment was a little more blunt: most men are just assholes).
She had decided not to waste any more time in developing and nurturing relationships with men other than those who just want to be friends (Quick: if you are a male reader and your first thought was the saying that men can’t be friends with women, you aren’t alone, but you are part of the problem). She wasn’t so much sad or mad, by the way, just resigned.
Another woman friend is facing a crumbling marriage. The problem: her husband’s demand for power and control over her is suffocating and stifling her options and ability to grow. He can’t seem to accept her as a strong, independent woman who should and wants to be an equal partner in the relationship. On the other hand, she feels guilty about the growing chasm; she’s made to feel she must be doing something wrong.
With this background, I came across this picture that my friend Cat Moon recently retweeted:
It’s a picture of a group of law firm managing partners (let’s call it the ManPic) at a recent conference designed to teach them, I suppose, how to be better managing partners. (Perhaps the first lesson ought to be about inclusion and opportunity for those that aren’t just like them). The really ironic thing is that the association holding the conference pats itself on its back because of its strides in diversity. Right.
It’s time for all of us to call these things what they are. Inexcusable. Intolerable.
It’s time for all of us to call these things what they are. Inexcusable. Intolerable. It’s inexcusable that today after all the gains women have supposedly made, we still have such a disparity in management positions for women. That we as a profession are so blind that we can brag about how diverse we are when the real picture shows we are not.
That some professions like nursing and teaching (members of which by the way could teach most of us men lessons about the meaning of service, humility and grace under pressure) are still looked down upon by many men as “women’s” professions that aren’t entitled to the same respect as any male-dominated profession or job.
That we have repeated and routine instances of men dominating and humiliating women from the subtle “hon would you get me a cup of coffee” to more sinister and crude remarks to even worse. That we have national leaders who boast of taking advantage of women, that we have repeated examples of men engaging in behavior from inappropriate touching to taking even greater sexual liberties due to power disparities in the workplace. A power disparity that the ManPic so clearly reflects.
It is intolerable that men dominate executive positions and either don’t see or don’t care about bias and sexual harassment.
It’s intolerable that women are forced to disengage in relationships because as a sex, us men are so untrustworthy that a life alone is better. It’s unacceptable that women are made to feel like they have no options but unhappiness in a relationship because men use domination and control and guilt, and that men make women feel lesser and without choice and options. It is intolerable that men dominate executive positions and either don’t see or don’t care about bias and sexual harassment.
A Picture Worth a Thousand Words
Doubt that most men do this? Look again carefully at the ManPic picture. What does it implicitly show women who want to be lawyers: that you’re not capable of being a managing partner? What if all the partners in the picture were women save one? Would you conclude it’s a “women’s” profession like nursing and teaching supposedly are?
But it’s more than a depiction of men running law firms where women work. Who runs most businesses? Men. Who runs most religious organizations and churches? Men. Is it any wonder that my two friends somehow feel guilt and resignation when they want equality; everywhere they look subservience to men seems to be the natural order of things.
Men’s reaction? Too often we make excuses that do nothing but help perpetuate the problem. Excuses like there’s just not many qualified women. That we can’t lower our standards “just” to have more women in leadership positions. (Can we call bullshit on this? If there are not enough qualified women to meet “our standards” we better take a long hard look at our standards-standards which exclude over half of the population. I don’t buy the not enough qualified women argument anyway: if that’s your argument, the truth is you just haven’t looked hard enough).
Men’s reaction? We make excuses that do nothing but help perpetuate the problem.
And while we are at it, let’s call bullshit on another excuse: in light of the #metoo movement, the sanctimonious claim that men can’t engage with women anymore or won’t do so without a witness for fear of being accused of doing something inappropriate. What they are really saying is, I don’t ever do anything wrong, but I might be unjustly accused by a woman of doing something I would never do. Implicit in this is the notion that most harassment claims are bogus, that women can’t be trusted to be truthful and that as men, we are entitled to certain liberties. It’s an excuse not to understand and recognize sexual harassment and to learn and be sensitive to implicit bias.
For those making this argument, here’s another option: don’t be an asshole and instead always act appropriately. Learn something about sexual harassment and implicit bias. Care. And for God’s sake don’t touch without asking.
And for us lawyers, its time for us to be leaders not just of our profession but for society as well. I graduated from law school more years ago than I like to think. My law school class was close to 50% women. We studied together, argued with each other and by and large treated each other as equals and colleagues. I don’t even recall giving it a passing thought that there were so many women in school with me. Yet when I look at the ManPic, I realize that even though we all started together in law school, we didn’t end up equals, and we haven’t come very far as a profession. It’s time to ask why. It’s time to demand answers.
It’s time to ask why. It’s time to demand answers.
(And I know, there had to have been bias in law school and I was insensitive to it. My point though is in a ideal world assuming 50% of my class was composed of women and we reached their age where we should be in line to be a managing partner or corporate general counsel, somewhere around 50% of managing partners and general counsel should now be women. How many women do you see in the ManPic?).
As lawyers, we are the watchdogs of our legal system. If there’s discrimination, we need to combat it. If there’s harassment, we need to stop it. Most of us have sworn to support the U.S. Constitution, a document that has been interpreted to mean discrimination against women is wrong. We have an ethical obligation to stand up for victims of discrimination and harassment. For those that doubt, here’s the Model Rule:
8.4 It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to…(g) engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status…
We have an ethical duty to not discriminate against women. Period. We have a duty to society to fight against discrimination and harrassement. Period.
I’ve read this several times to try to find wiggle room that would justify turning a blind eye to discrimination and harassment in all their forms, and I can’t find it. We have an ethical duty to not discriminate against women. Period. We have a duty to society to fight against discrimination and harassment. Period. Are we living this or just paying lip service?
Let’s quit talking about it. Let’s change it.