To celebrate International Women’s Day, leading lawyers and barristers from around the world discuss the challenges facing women in the legal sector and how to attain success in a demanding work environment.
Violeta Longino – Vice President & Deputy General Counsel at Accor Hotels, Miami
From my perspective, in every country in the world, women receive a lower wage and do not have the same opportunities for promotion compared to men. The legal profession is no different and unfortunately remains a male-dominated sector. Although the scales are beginning to rebalance, disparities remain, and it is our duty to eliminate such illogical and unfair inequalities and to close the gap.
Equal means equal; equal pay for equal work and equal opportunities for all.
Each person, male or female, can make the difference. Because of this, I am passionate about gender equality and diversity. I truly believe that we can make a difference in this world.
Antonia Stolper – Americas Regional Managing Partner at Shearman & Sterling and Vice Chair of the Cyrus Vance Center, New York City
For those of us who have been active in efforts to advance women’s equality over many decades the legal profession remains a key target as well as an opportunity. It is a key target because as lawyers we are front and center in the efforts to promote equality through the law, whether through legislation and regulation, court decisions implementing such legislation and regulations as well as through enforcement of laws against violence against women and children, so that women can participate as full citizens free of fear.
The legal profession remains an opportunity for the advancement of women because there remains so much room for progress – certainly the law firms remain male-dominated although there does seem to be a renewed focus, whether because of pressure internally, externally from clients, or just a realization that the talent drain is hurting profitability, in addressing the gap between rhetoric and reality.
There will never be an ultimate fix – we’ll see steps forward and then stalling – all social change occurs in this fashion and women’s equality in the world is social change at its most profound.
Harini Iyengar – Barrister at 11KBW and National Spokesperson on Equal Representation for the Women’s Equality Party, London
Recent research by the Bar Standards Board shows that we can expect half of QCs to be women in 50 years’ time and it will take 100 years for there to be a pro rata equal number of non-white QCs. I can’t wait 50-100 years for equality because then I will be dead.
There is no shortage of excellent women lawyers in the legal profession and it’s time to accept that structural inequalities mean that they are not currently getting equal opportunities to advance. The Women’s Equality Party campaigns for quotas as a temporary measure to secure equality.
On International Women’s Day, let’s demand equality in our own lifetimes!
Claudia Prado – Regional Chairman of the Latin America Regional Council at Baker McKenzie and Chairman of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, São Paulo
Why is it important for women to have strong leadership examples in the legal profession? Because leaders have collective responsibility and authority to affect not only a shift in mind-set around the role of women in our industry, but also real positive change. At the same time, to make a significant and lasting difference, women must feel they have the necessary tools and support in place to advance their careers, including inspiration from role models and sponsorship from influential leaders.
Monica Feria Tinta – Barrister at 20 Essex Street, London
The contribution of women to the Bar should never be reduced to a matter of numbers or statistics, but be seen rather in a qualitative sense; that of the profound transformation that the law is experiencing in recent years since women entered the profession. Nor should the contribution of women be reduced to gender issues only.
Women at the Bar contribute in dispute resolution worldwide across all areas of the law including commercial law, public international law, conflict of laws and international arbitration. Our work has created landmarks in all areas of practice, effectively advancing the justice system across jurisdictions around the world.
Roberta Liebenberg – Senior Partner at Fine Kaplan & Black, Philadelphia
Women lawyers continue to face many hurdles in their careers, even though law firms and corporations have developed numerous diversity programs and initiatives over the years. Unfortunately, the pace of change has remained far too slow, as women comprise just 18% of equity partners. Indeed, it has been estimated that, at this glacial rate of progress, women will not achieve parity with men in equity partnerships until the year 2181.
Moreover, women still lag behind men in leadership positions and compensation and are often treated unfairly in assignments, promotion, credit origination and client succession decisions. In fact, there is an inverse pyramid for women in law firms, as the higher up you look at every level, the fewer women you will find.
So, why aren’t we seeing more progress after all these years? The answer is complex but research shows that it is due in large part to the myriad implicit biases women lawyers face and the entrenched and outdated business model of law firms. Management must set concrete goals and measure success, make transparency a priority, and hold attorneys accountable if they fail to meet targeted diversity benchmarks. Merely paying lip service to diversity is just not good enough.
We also need both senior men and women to step up and serve as mentors and sponsors for younger women to help them get seats at the table and become the future leaders of the profession.
While there is no doubt that women lawyers have made great strides, it is apparent that we need to do much, much more to finally crack the glass ceiling. In honor of International Women’s Day, let us each pledge to become catalysts for change to create a more level playing field for women lawyers.