March 07, 2019 Chair's Column

Men in the Mix

By Stephanie A. Scharf

In her acceptance speech at the 2018 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards ceremony, honoree Patricia Kruse Gillette spoke about Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, who, as a strong woman leader, took a group with disparate goals, united them in a mission, led them down the road they needed to go, and navigated many challenges along the way—with all of them ultimately achieving their goals. One can hardly imagine a more diverse group than a lion, a straw man, a tin man, and a young woman. Yet, not only did each of them contribute strengths to the team effort, each of them also learned to overcome his or her own weaknesses and bring out the strengths in others.

When Dorothy first arrives in the Emerald City, she rings the doorbell and is informed by the gatekeeper that the bell is out of order and she must knock (even though the “out of order” sign is nowhere to be seen). When she knocks, she is told that nobody gets in to see the Wizard. She persists, explaining that Glinda sent her. In a classic example of prove-it-again bias, the gatekeeper demands evidence that Glinda sent Dorothy and is at last satisfied when Dorothy displays the ruby slippers.

The Wizard of Oz was released 80 years ago. Since then, women lawyers have made substantial progress in getting through the doors of the legal profession. Long gone are the days when law graduate Sandra Day O’Connor, at the top of her Stanford Law School class, could not get a job in a private firm as a lawyer. But it is also the case that women lawyers continue to face barriers beyond the entry level, all the way up to the senior level, at most places that employ lawyers. A key factor is the extent to which leaders in an organization understand, appreciate, and advance gender diversity as a core organizational value.

The Commission on Women in the Profession’s new Men in the Mix initiative will conduct a national series of focus groups, to be held in 2019 and into 2020, to address these core questions: Why do men help (or not help) in advancing their women colleagues in the legal profession? What can we do to incentivize senior male leaders to help their women colleagues advance? In a series of group sessions, men and women will first discuss their answers in gender-identical groups and then share their views in gender-mixed conversations. The Dorothys of the legal profession will hear directly from the gatekeepers about the steps to take to engage in door-opening conversations. And the gatekeepers will hear directly from the Dorothys about how they experience barriers to advancement. The Commission anticipates that the results will give actionable advice to law firm leaders and women lawyers about engaging male colleagues in new strategies for leveling the playing field.

The Commission has a long history of sponsoring research projects to learn about a problem and frame data-based solutions. We have that same expectation for our Men in the Mix program—that it will shed light on the value of men taking the lead on sponsoring the advancement of women, both for the men who do so and the women who work with them.

Ultimately, in all settings in which lawyers work, enhanced gender diversity at the highest levels will provide better decisions, better business results, and a more congenial workplace. We look forward to presenting the results of the Men in the Mix study and arming ourselves with great strategies to open the doors to successful careers for men and women in the legal profession.

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By Stephanie A. Scharf

Stephanie A. Scharf is a founding partner of Scharf Banks Marmor LLC in Chicago. She is chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and co-chairs the ABA President Initiative on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law.