The last two weeks have been exhausting. Hearing allegations of sexual assault against a nominee to the US Supreme Court is exhausting — no matter whether you believe them or not. It is completely exhausting — exhausting to hear the allegations and exhausting to process arguments that no investigation of those allegations is necessary. Exhausting to watch a TV interview/promotion of a Supreme Court nominee regarding issues of sexual assault. It all seems surreal.
Allegations of sexual harassment are shocking enough. Allegations of sexual assault are something else entirely. Since when do we just let it be “he said, she said” about things that may be crimes without looking into it further — as in a formal investigation by the FBI. That is mind boggling to me.
Theoretically, nominations to the Supreme Court of our land should be about excellent jurisprudence, awesome qualifications to make decisions that control our daily lives, and impeccable character. But that is not happening today. Instead, the confirmation hearings are infused with politics and polling. Politics is seeping into everything these days and pushing “the right thing” far to the side and even farther out of view.
I typically do not get into politics at Best Friends at the Bar, and I am not taking political sides here. What I am doing is reminding you that sexual harassment and gender discrimination are things that you will be lucky if you can avoid in the workplace today. As women lawyers, you are still in the minority, and there still are gender stereotypes that will plague you throughout your careers. The standards of acceptability in terms of behavior are different for you than for your male colleagues. If you want to test it, try being strident and outspoken during your next law firm meeting or before a male judge in the courtroom. That will be a life lesson. And you will not forget it. I know I didn’t.
These are important issues, and you need to pay attention to them. Gender discrimination can be obvious and easy to spot or it can be nuanced and sneak up on you. The most harmful is the implicit bias that affects your upward mobility and your earning power — and which you discover too late.
I include the subjects of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and implicit bias in almost every speech I give. I do not obsess about it, but I make sure my audiences know enough about it to beware of its harmful effects. I have discussed it in my books and on this blog before, and I will continue to do that.
Most of my audiences are receptive to this information. I am grateful for that because it means that you young women are learning and arming yourself to protect your futures.
Every once in awhile, however, I am amazed at denials of the importance of these issues. Consider a VERY VERY prestigious Big Law firm pushing back on my remarks about reporting issues of gender discrimination and implicit bias to HR and, if there is no satisfactory resolution at that level, to keep notes and consider a resolution outside the law firm. Also consider that the push back was not from male lawyers. The push back was from senior women partners. I guess their loyalty was to the organization and not to women. Sad.
I pushed back, too. I reminded those women that I am an advocate for women lawyers not for individual law firms. I applaud HR processes that are fair, thorough and invested in exploring the facts, discovering the truth, and redressing wrong. However, not all law firm processes meet those standards. In those instances, I want women to know their options. Even if XYZ law firm has a process that does meet those high standards, many of the women I speak to today at such law firms may not be there in the future. They may find themselves at law firms with processes of much lesser quality and dedication to fairness. They will need the information I have for them.
It is as simple as this. Take these issues seriously, whether you are a young woman lawyer or a law firm leader. You do less at your peril.