August 31, 2018 Feature

A Story Worth Telling

By Stephanie A. Scharf

Over the past six months, the push to eliminate sexual harassment from the workplace, including from the legal profession, has gained even greater force. The Commission on Women in the Profession has been in the forefront. In February, the ABA House of Delegates passed Resolution 302, a set of policies and procedures developed by the Commission for eliminating sexual harassment from work. Lest anyone believe that sexual harassment in the workplace is no longer a problem for us lawyers please take a look at Resolution 302 and its supporting Report. https://www.ameri​canbar.org/content/dam/aba/events/women/2018_mm_302.pdf

And there is more to come. The Commission is supporting a new resolution to no longer impose mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims unless both the employer and the complainant both agree to it. At the same time, the Commission has now released Zero Tolerance, available on the ABA website, and offering a plethora of information and guidance for use in everyday work settings.

As lawyers, we know first-hand the persuasive value of facts. That is one reason why well-designed research has been a hallmark of Commission studies. I am delighted that the newest work of the Commission, in coordination with the Presidential Initiative on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in the Law, is coming to fruition. We have developed a plethora of new information about why women stay in the legal profession and why they do not. Our information comes from (a) national focus groups; (b) a survey of managing partners and individual lawyers in large and medium sized firms; (c) and a survey of law school alumni 20 years after graduation. We also have in the works a study about the special challenges faced by women lawyers of color.

Some of the reasons why women continue to practice law or leave the profession are personal although, more often, we are seeing an impact of employer policies, practices, and reactions—or lack of reaction—to issues raised by women at work. Just as in the courtroom, where fact-based stories persuade, we have a high anticipation that the research results will teach us the best practices for framing long-term careers for women lawyers. Given the enormous loss of talent that comes from women and men dropping out of law, these new data-based studies should be welcome in all segments of the profession.

The prospect of deeper understanding and change is what gives me high hopes for the Commission’s newest project, Men in the Mix. Initiatives for retaining and advancing women lawyers should not speak only to women—as we have come to realize, such programs need men in the mix. The project will be rolled out at the ABA Presidential Summit in June 2018 in Chicago, where leaders of in-house law departments will be discussing the value of male/female alliances for good decision-making in business as well as advancing careers.

This issue of Perspectives is full of stories that are worth telling, from sexual harassment and rape to the immigration debate to the evolution of education law. No matter what plot twists come our way, we are all working towards the best endings to the story, for ourselves, our clients, and the women lawyers who come after us.

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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 Presidential Initiative on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law.