Call to Action for Gender Equity

Vol. 21 No. 2


Mary B. Cranston is chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. She is the retired senior partner and immediate past chair of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP in San Francisco.

As reported in this and other issues of Perspectives, it is clear that there are many issues affecting women that arise because they are in the minority. This is particularly true with respect to leaders directing the course of our country.

The Commission works tirelessly to develop women lawyer leaders who will have an impact in their work environments, the legal profession, their communities, politics—indeed, in all arenas. Its four previous Women in Law Leadership (WILL) Academies were designed to train women to be future leaders and give them the skills they need to take their careers to the next level. The 2012 WILL Academy, which will take place on December 6−7 in San Francisco, will offer opportunities to gain valuable insights from and network with a sterling roster of prominent general counsel, judges, and practitioners. Attendees will learn why women need to be represented in leadership positions in firms, corporations, and government jobs and will gain the tools necessary to prepare them to assume these leadership positions. For more information, visit

ABA President Laurel G. Bellows is passionate about her call to action to attain gender equity and created the Gender Equity Task Force as one of her presidential initiatives. Women presently constitute 33 percent of the legal profession, and they certainly are visible in all avenues of life. But as Bellows has stated, “Visibility of women does not equal equality.” Women still do not have equal compensation or equal opportunity of promotion.

Toward these ends, the task force working groups will focus on several key areas. One working group is taking a two-pronged approach to the critical issue of lawyer compensation, where discrimination continues to exist. First, the group will develop a pay-gap toolkit for state and local bar associations to use to educate their members about the underlying reasons for the disparity in pay between women lawyers and their male counterparts. Second, the group will develop model compensation policies and best practices for firms to employ to develop equitable and transparent compensation systems.

Another working group is focusing on engaging young female and male lawyers in gender equity issues. Young lawyers may not understand that bias and discrimination exist because they have not yet had that experience; moreover, bias today is often more subtle and implicit rather than overt.

Other working groups will invest their efforts in the following areas:

  • Enhance the collaboration and coordination of projects and other initiatives of women’s groups in the ABA to leverage their collective power.
  • Present a general counsel summit to discuss creative ways to help ensure that the outside women lawyers handling their companies’ work are advancing in their law firms and receiving fair origination credit for that work.
  • Help create a women-to-women business referral network with women bar leaders and lawyers from international bar associations.
  • Educate the general public on gender equity issues.

Whatever the roads taken by the Commission, Bellows, and the task force working groups, the destination is the same. We have seen the positive impact of a “critical mass” of women in corporate boardrooms, law firms, the courts, academia, and other institutions. Everyone—including men, children, and families—benefits from true gender equity, and our society is all the richer.


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