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As part of its ongoing Roundtable series, The Recorder recently invited a group of prominent San Francisco Bay Area practitioners and a distinguished law professor to discuss issues confronting women in the legal profession. Here are some of the highlights of the discussion. Deborah Rhode: I thought I would open the conversation by giving a brief overview of a report recently issued by the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession. “The Unfinished Agenda” is the third edition of a report first submitted by the commission in 1988, which was then chaired by Hillary Rodham Clinton. It predicted that time alone was unlikely to significantly alter the under-representation of women in the highest legal positions. The latest edition of that report confirms that fact. It provides the most comprehensive recent overview of the status of women in the profession and the justice system, and it chronicles progress towards gender equality and progress yet to be made. The good news is we’re all here. Women now constitute about 30 percent of the bar and a majority of entering law students. But they are still way under-represented at the top and over-represented at the bottom in terms of positions of greatest status, influence and economic rewards. Women, for example, now comprise about 15 percent of law firm partners, 10 percent of law school deans and corporate general counsels and 5 percent of managing partners. On average, women earn about $20,000 per year less than their male colleagues, and disparities persist even among those with comparable jobs, education and experience. In short the “woman problem” hasn’t quite been solved, and part of the problem is lack of recognition that there is a significant problem. Ironically enough, women’s increasing progress has created its own obstacles to change. In recent surveys by the American Bar Association, the National Association for Law Placement and Catalyst, a majority of lawyers, both male and female, agreed that men and women were treated equally in the profession. Even those who acknowledge that gender bias is a problem often discount its significance or fail to recognize its persistence in their own workplaces. Many lawyers still equate bias with intentional discrimination, and the legal settings that they encounter provide few clear examples of it. For a majority of the profession, the problem, to the extent that they see a problem, is not their problem. Witness the composition of this room. It did not escape the panel’s attention that the sign-up sheets here were filled exclusively by women. That in and of itself tells you something about the lack of consensus about the seriousness of the problem. Marcia Sterling: As I was driving into San Francisco this morning I was thinking that it’s been a good number of years since I’ve done a women’s panel. The thought occurred to me: Are we digging up some 20th century relic here in talking about a glass ceiling? After all, isn’t the glass ceiling pretty much shattered? Half of those coming into our profession out of law schools are women. Certainly sitting around this table we have some women in positions of great power, at the most prestigious law firms and universities. So I’m here, not as part of this community of women who’ve really fought this fight but as someone who wonders if there is still a glass ceiling or not. I don’t know. Lydia Beebe: I think complacency is the biggest challenge that faces us because there’s an ability of people to say, as Deborah pointed out, we’ve addressed workplace issues, we’ve hired these people, and it’s all going to be solved. And I just think you can’t argue with the numbers. The facts are that women haven’t achieved the equality that they should have based on the numbers of law school graduates and new lawyers. I think the issue is how can we make sure that the women that are 5 and 10 and 15 years into the profession stay in that pipeline so that in the next 10 years or less they’re assuming the roles of leadership in equal numbers to their male counterparts. Mary Cranston: There is still a large part of our population that doesn’t think that the problem exists. You can call it complacency. I think it’s almost a little scarier than that, it’s total lack of awareness. Beebe: Or denial. Cranston: Exactly. And it is very subtle. One of the things that makes it most difficult for women to deal with is that we have the same subtle bias in our consciousness that the men have in theirs. When you think of the most likely person who’s going to be doing a corporate turnaround, what pops into your mind? A tall white guy. That is a cultural stereotype, and we carry it. As we approach leadership positions we have to deal with our own fears. I think that’s one of the reasons why, despite all of the progress, that last barrier is still there. And it’s going to take a while. I remember reading this great statistic that if we just let time and natural development at the current rate happen we’ll have a nice level playing field in about 350 years. I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough — for my daughter in particular. Angela Bradstreet: Deborah mentioned this and I think it’s worth mentioning again. I think the panel is shattered that we don’t have a single male in the audience. I think one of the problems is that the issue of the glass ceiling is perceived as a “women’s issue.” It is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. It’s a management issue. And until everyone in the legal profession, male and female, recognizes that, we will always have the glass ceiling. I agree that the gender stereotyping is still quite amazing. We still have male partners saying, “Well, I don’t know if she can be an effective managing partner on the finance side. I think she can do the personnel stuff, but can she make the big strategy finance decisions?” Or “is she too aggressive?” or “is she too strident?” Mary, I’d like to know how you’ve done it at Pillsbury Winthrop? Cranston: I realized early on that one of the things that I love to do is change things and be in charge, I’ve always liked to be a leader. Not everyone has that particular personality but I do. I also realized that I had no mentors for that as a law firm leader. I did have some wonderful mentors at Pillsbury who were very supportive of me. But they weren’t particularly active in the leadership of the law firm. I somehow figured out that I needed to be able to have an image of what I wanted to be. I couldn’t have a real live mentor because they didn’t exist. But I could have one in my own head to help me where I wanted to go, and I started to visualize where I did want to go. When you start visualizing you start coming up against your own cultural biases. You begin to see that you have some beliefs about how maybe women wouldn’t really be as good at the lead or as the head of a major corporate defense team. Beebe: Women see those issues but I’m not sure that men do. Cranston: Maybe not, because they don’t have the same culture we do, in a sense. So it impacts you differently. I had to look those fears right in the eye, pat ‘em on the head and say I’m going to do it anyway. And I just made conscious choice after conscious choice … Bradstreet: Did you think it was a confidence thing? Maybe women have their own internal glass ceilings? Cranston: That’s what I’m trying to say. It was hard for me to even finally recognize and acknowledge it. Because it is true that we are quite victimized, in a sense, by this cultural bias. But to see it in yourself, that’s pretty tough. On the other hand, that’s the path out. Once you see it in yourself, you just don’t buy it in your own personal choices, and you can just work yourself to be much more conscious of the fact that you are worthwhile, that you are worthy to be there, that the place needs you. In fact, you’re the best choice they could ever have. Finally, when I was asked to be the chair of the firm I did have to go through the impostor syndrome that you read about in literature. Can I really be this? I’m dressed up in this suit and I’m in charge. Have I made a horrible mistake? Again, I had to just sort of pat it on the head and go for it. For me, the most empowering thing that I’ve figured out about this whole issue is that by taking full responsibility for the problem myself I can do more about it. I no longer allow myself to put a whole lot of energy into trying to change men who have the problem. Instead I try to put most of my energy into what I’m creating and what I want to do. The problem does melt away to a certain extent when you make that shift. Sterling: Mary, I love your concept of taking on the responsibility and ownership of the problem yourself. I think what we’re talking about is leadership. As I was reading some of Deborah’s research, I thought about what is getting in our way as women. Because of my role at Autodesk, I do a lot of selection of outside counsel. I evaluate both women and men and I make choices that are utterly self-interested in terms of whom I want as outside counsel to represent my company. And I think about this quality of leadership that is so essential to success. I’m a Stanford basketball fan, and there’s a quality that a basketball player has of wanting the ball at the end of the game when the game is on the line. It’s always been kind of an astonishing thing to me why anyone would want to be out there shooting a free throw or whatever when, if they miss it, they’re going to look so bad while thousands of people are watching them. What is this quality of wanting to be on the line, feeling like you’re the best person to do the job? You see that in executives as well. They want to be on the line, they want to make the decision. And when I’m looking for outside counsel, I want somebody who will own the problem, who is willing to go in and lose and look bad. Someone who feels, at the end of the day, they’re going to make the best decisions and do the best job. I often think the way little boys are raised and the way little girls are raised is still not the same. Even those of us who try our best to do it in an egalitarian way are more likely to encourage our young boys to be competitive, to learn to have fun solving problems and winning games while we are more likely to teach our young girls to be people pleasers. I think a lot of what we have to get at to change those numbers is not only making people at the decision-making level aware of this subtle bias. It also has to do with raising our daughters to have fun in winning the game. Beebe: I don’t disagree with Mary’s and Marcia’s point about taking a lot of responsibility yourself and trying to take hold of your career, see where you want to go and try to see a path to get there. But I think you’re letting off the hook a lot of people you shouldn’t. I don’t think this is a problem that women create. And your solution is really one that says we as women have to learn how to be successful in this men’s culture and that we need to have the same attributes that these men on the basketball court have in thinking they’re the best as opposed to creating a situation where more of the women’s attributes might be recognized as valuable for successful leaders. Attributes such as leading by consensus, bringing people together, listening to people, are those that in much of the literature are attributed to women. I think it’s our challenge to really put forward these concepts. I mean, we should do a good job and try to bridge the gap, but not necessarily be just like some man that we see.
AROUND THE TABLE Lydia Beebe is corporate secretary of ChevronTexaco Corp. in San Francisco. She has worked for the company in a variety of legal and government affairs positions since becoming a lawyer in 1977. Angela Bradstreet heads the employment law practice group at Carroll, Burdick & McDonough. She is currently serving as president of the Bar Association of San Francisco. Mary Cranston is the chair of Pillsbury Winthrop and a partner in the firm’s San Francisco office. She specializes in litigation and has handled more than 300 class actions in state and federal courts. Deborah Rhode is a professor at Stanford Law School and is director of the school’s Keck Center on Legal Ethics and the Legal Profession. She also chairs the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. Marcia Sterling is general counsel and senior vice president for law and corporate affairs at Autodesk Inc., a software company in San Rafael. She is a former partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

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