For several decades women have been entering and graduating from law school in numbers almost equal to men. They have also been entering the legal profession at near equal rates for thirty years. Yet, equality in the legal ranks declines for women over time, and salaries for men and women in the field are not commensurate. Add to these realities the growing number of revelations about workplace biases and harassment—along with employers’ growing willingness to support diversity programs—and a picture emerges of an industry in transition, with all the challenges and opportunities that such change entails.
At numerous BC Law events this past semester, these issues were probed, discussed, and debated at length. While all the participants were very clear-eyed about the hardships they’ve faced and the social norms and barriers that have hindered women’s progress, they were also optimistic, enthusiastically dispensing advice and providing insight into the profession’s inner workings.
One conversation focused on the #MeToo movement. Another dwelt on the difficulty of getting people to appreciate the need for and impact of diversity. An Asian lawyer observed that finding role models can be hard for women of her race because they “haven’t been in the legal industry long enough to have twenty years’ worth of supervisors and partners above us.” But she also offered a formula for change: “We’ve got to bring ourselves up and bring everyone below up with us.”
Perhaps no event so aptly captured this moment in time for women than the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy discussion about women in politics. As the number of women running for office is breaking records nationwide this campaign season, Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards could have been speaking for all women trying to advance their careers when she said: “There was just a parade of horribles as to why I shouldn’t even try. If someone is fighting that hard to keep you out of the race, then you should definitely run because they must know something that you don’t know about your abilities to…win.”
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