One year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic closed down our country, making perhaps permanent changes to the way we work and forcing 2 million women out of the American workforce (https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/commentary/women-workforce-unemployment-covid-pandemic-job-loss-20210308.html). As of 2020, one in four women considered leaving the workforce because of family or childcare responsibilities. The closure of schools and day care centers highlighted for employers what the research shows and what women already know—caregiving, even in 2021, still remains largely the responsibility of women.
Women, especially women with children and lawyers of color, report that work in 2020 was more often disrupted by family and household obligations than in the previous year. In private practice settings, the same study showed that during the pandemic, male lawyers were significantly more likely than women to be experiencing an increase rather than a decrease in billable hours. See, R. Liebenberg & S. Scharf, Emerging from the Pandemic into the Future of Law Practice: A National Survey of the Legal Profession (Am. Bar Ass’n, forthcoming Mar. 2021). It is clear that part of the conversation about gender equity in the legal arena must include a conversation about affordable and attainable childcare. The American Bar Association passed a resolution at its Midyear Meeting asking legal employers to have those conversations. The Commission on Women in the Profession has research and toolkits to assist legal employers in having pointed conversations in the workplace around all issues regarding gender equity.
The Commission released its newest research study, Men in the Mix, on March 1. The study highlights the importance of male voices in the dialogue on gender equity but also shows that many men are uncomfortable joining the conversation to promote gender equity and do not know how to engage in the conversation. Men in the Mix provides guidance for men to become better allies for women lawyers and suggestions for women lawyers on how to engage men in the gender equity conversation. Please share this study with the men in your organization and ask them to join the conversation. Read the study and view the toolkit at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/diversity/women/initiatives_awards/men-in-the-mix.
Last fall, the Commission released the report This Talk Isn’t Cheap and the Guided Conversations Project to address the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, and gender in the legal profession. The report suggests ways that women lawyers, through structured dialogue of women of color and white women, can bridge gaps in understanding and build allyship to promote racial equity in the legal profession. We hope that you will read the report to start thinking about these issues and then use the Commission’s resources to have your own guided conversation.
To get the conversation started, the Commission will hold a Day of Conversation around these issues on April 27. Legal organizations across the country are invited to spend 60 to 90 minutes dedicated to discussions about how the experiences of women of color differ from those of white women and explore how white women might become better allies with women of color to reduce bias in the profession. Learn more about Guided Conversations and register to participate in our Day of Conversation project so we know you are joining us at https://americanbar.org/groups/diversity/women/initiatives_awards/women_of_color_research_initiative/guided-conversations-project. Please keep the conversations going.