A year after the Houston Bar Association revised its Gender Fairness Commitment Statement, 60 firms in Houston have signed the statement, which asks firms to take “concrete action” by 2020 to materially increase the number of women partners and women firm leaders.
HBA President Warren Harris, a partner at Bracewell, said he is excited that so many firms have committed to the objectives. He said the Gender Fairness Committee will reach out to firms in early 2020 to see what steps they have taken to increase gender equity in partnership and leadership.
“There’s certainly more work that needs to be done. We are glad the firms are supporting these issues,” Harris said.
The list includes Houston-based firms of all sizes as well as firms with Houston offices. The Harris County Attorney’s Office has also signed the statement.
Marking its 15th anniversary, the Gender Fairness Committee revised an earlier version of the statement one year ago. To mark the 16th anniversary, the HBA announced the signing list Tuesday.
By signing the document, the firms and legal departments pledge to develop and use objective and unbiased criteria to evaluate women attorneys for partnership and leadership positions, and to also promote policies and practices to retain and advance women attorneys and achieve gender parity.
The 2018 statement replaced one that was issued in 2011. According to a spokeswoman for the HBA, the highest number of firms and legal departments that signed the previous statement was 36.
Committee co-chairwoman Angeles Garcia Cassin, an associate in Greenberg Traurig’s Houston office, said a number of other firms are considering signing the statement. “It takes time to make its way through the approval process,” she said.
Cassin said the committee has big plans. It will not only survey the firms in early 2020 to determine what steps they have taken to meet the goals of the statement, but also provide further support.
“We’ve already talked about how we can continue the connection with the signatories … continuing to develop ways we can be supportive [and] educate,” she said.
She said the committee, which starts its one-year service on June 1, will decide what specific support it can provide to firms, but has already discussed meeting with firm leaders to provide feedback on initiatives.
“It’s safe to say our hope is to keep the dialogue going,” said Cassin, who has applied to serve on the committee again next year.
According to the 2018 National Association of Women Lawyers Survey on Promotion and Retention of Women in Law Firms, 20% of equity partners in big U.S. firms are women. That showed an increase of just one percentage point since 2017. The survey includes responses from 97 Am Law 200 firms.
Harris, whose firm has signed the statement, said those numbers need to change.
“We need to all get on board. It’s something we have to make happen. It’s time,” he said.