May 10, 2013

Leveraging Information to Advance Gender Equity

Mary B. Cranston

Twenty-five years ago, the Commission issued a groundbreaking report showing that women lawyers were not advancing in the profession at a satisfactory rate. A variety of discriminatory barriers remained a part of the professional culture—barriers that a significant increase in the number of women lawyers alone would not eliminate. The report recommended a thorough reexamination of the legal profession’s attitudes and structures.

With this study, the Commission embarked on a mission to empower women lawyer leaders by providing them with as much information as possible. Toward this end, the Commission has partnered with a broad spectrum of constituencies.

On March 7, the Commission held its fourth invitation-only regional summit for women in-house counsel. Women who are general counsel and senior in-house counsel from the Midwest met in Chicago to explore how women in-house counsel can effectuate change in the profession. They also discussed ways to work together to help businesses better value women, who make up half of the workforce.

In April, the ABA Presidential Task Force on Gender Equity and the Commission launched the ABA Toolkit for Gender Equity in Partner Compensation. The toolkit (available at is a “conference in a box” for state and local bar associations to use for programs on gender pay equity.

Through the years, the Commission has worked with such national groups as the Center for Women in Law, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, Ms. JD, the National Association of Women Judges, the National Association of Women Lawyers, the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations, and Vision 2020, as well as numerous state and local bars. Our collective goal has been to present programs and publications that give women lawyers information and tools to advance into leadership positions.

The Commission works with ABA entities such as the Commission on Disability Rights, Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, and the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to foster diversity in the profession and equity for diverse lawyers.

In February, the Commission and the Task Force on Gender Equity convened the first ABA Women’s Affinity Groups Summit involving female and male representatives of numerous committees addressing women’s advancement. Participants brainstormed ideas for project and research collaboration and coordination to maximize their combined power.

The efforts of multiple ABA entities to advance women in the legal profession will be recognized during the ABA Annual Meeting. On Friday, August 9, the “Day of the Woman” will feature eight CLE programs and a noon rally (see Hannah Hayes’ article on page 10.) As the Commission celebrates its 25th year, it continues a laser-like focus to provide the best information possible so that we all are in a position to help achieve gender equity in the profession.

Mary B. Cranston

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.