WIPR Influential Women in IP 2020
www.worldipreview.com Diversity in law
Have you ever felt disadvantaged during
your time in the legal profession on
account of being part of a minority?
Have you ever felt discriminated
against during your time in the
Yes No Prefer not to say No Yes Prefer not to say
At the time Durden questioned this, and was quite
critical of her, she admits. “Now I see her having to
potentially make choices and not wanting to be seen
as being ‘weak’ or unable to compete with the (male)
standards for partnership.”
Slivers of light?
Well, there has been some progress, but it’s certainly
not enough. Plenty of firms have modified their
requirements for achieving partnership, says Durden,
adding that parental leave has helped to partially level
the playing field
Lee agrees that the situation is a little bit better
than it was 20 years ago.
“Law firms are looking for ways to improve because
clients are demanding it. If clients don’t demand it,
why change what doesn’t appear to be broken? It’s a
busy world and why would you spend the energy to
provide something if no-one is demanding it?”
Recent moves by corporates to introduce tough
diversity standards “should have law firms scrambling”,
adds Durden, but this hasn’t necessarily happened.
“I’ve had partnerships say things such as ‘our
work speaks for itself, we won’t have to worry about
diversity requirements’,” she reports.
Lee gives credit to the handful of firms that treat
diversity and inclusion as part of the everyday routine,
making it part of billable hours and giving credit for
doing diversity work. But when you look at the top
200 law firms in the US, Lee says, in 2007 versus 2019
you went from 93% Caucasian in the top law firm
partnership ranks, to 90% now.
With the massive amount of time and money
surely being spent on diversity initiatives, small gains
are just not good enough. The profession must take
a hard look at what’s going wrong, particularly if it
wants to keep the people it’s trying to attract. l
dangerous for women—as a woman, have you ever
been called bossy, too sensitive, or bitchy? Probably,
and you’re not alone.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama, in her book
“Becoming”, writes: “I was female, black, and strong,
which to certain people, maintaining a certain mindset,
translated only to ‘angry’ … I was now starting to actually
feel a bit angry.”
For Durden, in one place she worked, men were
often outspoken and quite aggressive in the meeting
room but when women did similar, they were
criticised as being “shrill and emotional” and one
woman was told she needed to “calm down”.
“Women I know who are leaving the law are doing
so because they don’t feel that they can be themselves
within the legal industry. They perceive that to be
successful they need to speak and act differently,
rather than being able to be successful by being
themselves,” she adds.
There’s a tightrope to walk—the MCCA’s study
found that women of all races reported pressure to
behave in feminine ways, which included higher loads
of non-career-enhancing “office housework” and a
backlash for “masculine” behaviours.
If you do progress (and that’s a big if), another bias
rears its ugly head.
“When men get older and more experienced, they’re
at the pinnacle of the profession. Why are women in
their 50s leaving the profession? They’re being pushed
out, they’re made to feel not as welcome or important.
Why else would they be leaving at the time when most
men’s careers are at their height?” asks Lee.
After Durden was admitted to practise, she worked
at a large law firm with one female partner.
“She had her own ways of coping and keeping up.
I was shocked when she returned to work several days
after giving birth to her second child,” she says.
Law firms are
looking for ways
it. If clients don’t
demand it, why
to be broken?
Jean Lee, MCCA