March 01, 2018

What Can We Do for You?

By Stephanie A. Scharf

As I write my first column as chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, it is the end of November 2017 and difficult not to focus on the sea change that the country has experienced regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. The headlines about famous men harassing women at work have not abated. The large majority of American men and women—almost 90 percent—say that sexual harassment is a serious problem, according to a recent Quinnipiac University national poll.

The legal profession is not exempt from the problem. Many of us hear the stories and calls for help on a regular basis, showing that sexual harassment has not bypassed lawyers. At the same time, sexual harassment is a more extreme form of another problem our profession faces: Many fewer women than men are promoted into leadership roles—whether in private firms, in recent judicial and government appointments (especially at the federal level), or in corporations. While the profession has a strong pipeline of qualified women lawyers, we still have work to do for advancing women into the most senior levels.

All of which begs the question, what can we do for you? What new guidance and programs would you like to see? We currently have a number of innovative projects in place. The Commission’s study on bias interrupters continues our history of cutting-edge work with the publication You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Racial & Gender Bias in the Legal Profession. A joint effort with the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, this first-of-its-kind report contains two toolkits—one for law firms and one for in-house departments.

The Grit Project builds on the Commission’s new book Grit, the Secret to Advancement. We also are developing a toolkit based on our new publication Zero Tolerance: Best Practices for Combating Sex-Based Harassment in the Legal Profession. And we are starting a Men in the Mix program to partner with men to close the gender gaps that exist in too many work settings. The Commission also plays a key role in ABA President Hilarie Bass’s Initiative on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law. And we offer more, as shown at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/women.html.

However proud we may be of these contributions, we are always searching for new ways to help you succeed and enjoy the practice of law. Please send us your ideas to help us frame the best answers to the question, what can we do for you?

Let me add that it is an honor to become chair of the Commission and follow in the footsteps of so many outstanding former chairs, including my predecessor, Michele Coleman Mayes, whose leadership makes her a role model for us all. As we enter 2018, I offer cheers to a new year and, as Oprah has said, cheers to another chance for us to get it right.

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.