“I recall quite vividly being at the grocery store when a gentleman asked me if I was that ‘lady judge,’” Selby says. “He talked about how he saw my picture in the paper and showed it to his daughters, who were five and seven years old, and told them, ‘there’s something you can do too—you look just like her.’”
While some say women in robes and in elected office have become the new normal, the numbers still do not reflect the talent pool in an era when women comprise over 50 percent of the population. ore than a dozen district courts across the country have never had a female judge, and the numbers for women of color are still low. At the state level, 27 percent of judges are women.
Fernande “Nan” Duffly became the highest-ranking Asian Pacific American jurist in the history of Massachusetts when she was appointed associate justice of the state supreme court in 2011. Prior to her appointment, she served on the appeals court as well as probate and family court.
While attending Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Duffly requested funding from the administration to recruit and encourage minorities to apply, and in Boston she created a task force of lawyers and judges to advance women in law firms.
As she watched the numbers of women in the profession increase, she felt satisfied. “I thought I had made a contribution to increasing the numbers of women in the law,” Duffly says. But when the number of women in leadership stagnated, she took notice. “I looked around and said, this is not good, so I began to seriously focus on this issue again.”
Retaining and Promoting Women
In 2008, as president of the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) in Washington, D.C., Duffly created a task force on the retention and promotion of women in the legal profession. Recently, she asked a colleague whether the need for organizations like NAWJ would ever become obsolete. “Maybe there won’t be a need for an organization if the numbers are consistent with the number of women and minorities out there,” she says. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be happening.”
Still, there is much room for optimism. “When I started my career, the sheer numbers of women were not there, and that is changing,” says Myra Selby, now a partner at the Indianapolis law firm of Ice Miller LLP. “Just being colleagues—men and women together in this arena—that was still very new.”
Slightly over 41 percent of President Barack Obama’s confirmed nominees to the judiciary have been women, with more nominations pending. “I think we’ve made progress across the nation—after all, our president is of a mixed race,” Selby says. “But at the same time, there’s still work to be done.”