2021 was a year of unprecedented disruption world-wide, and women in law did not escape the outsized impact of that disruption. My inbox was inundated daily with legal industry headlines announcing a new grim data point about women lawyers leaving the practice, failing to reach leadership ranks in law in parity with men, and not being compensated in equal fashion to their male counterparts. In short, it was clear that the long-term systematic biases disfavoring women that have long dwelled in my beloved profession grew longer and stronger roots, fed by the pandemic. And now, as we enter into a fresh new calendar year, we are descending back into a renewed and unpredictable phase of that pandemic. It begs the question, how will women in law recover from the impact of the past and the now?
No question the layered implications of the long tail of the pandemic have been able to have such material impacts on women because of the similarly long history of mixed—and candidly destructive—messaging they have received as they mature in their legal careers and aspire to leadership. No one moment in the year is more of an exemplar of that type of messaging than the June 2021 ABA article, Are Women Lawyers Paying Enough Attention to Upward Mobility? That article received wide and broad debate and criticism, but candidly was not new or novel in its tone or assumptions. The only thing novel about that article and its subsequent furor is that that type of messaging simply stopped being an open secret.