By Ruby Delarosa, Esquire
This week we saw the 110th anniversary of International Women’s Day, a global day to celebrate the achievements of women, raise awareness about equality, lobby for gender parity, and progress causes that advance women. The day falls amid Women’s History Month, when we commemorate and continue to encourage the study, observance, and celebration of the vital role of women in American history. It is also a time to reflect on how much our country has progressed in bringing equality to and acknowledgement of women in this country. But as much as we have to celebrate, there is still work to be done.
I chose a life within the legal field – a field that is only 38 percent female and has been predominantly filled with white males since its inception. Hispanic lawyers only make up four percent of the industry, and Hispanic women make up less than two percent. Many believe that simply because women can apply to the same law schools, law firms, and jobs as men in the field that that solves the problem. Unfortunately, it does not.
Notwithstanding the inequality that persists, we must acknowledge the progress that has been made. Women are graduating from law school at a slightly higher rate than men. This cannot be attributed to more women applying, because the number of women attending law schools compared to men has been relatively even in the past few years, ranging right around the 50 percent mark. I won’t delve into the questions as to whether women apply themselves more than men or have more pressure to do well once they have been accepted. The question is whether opportunities are made available to women at the same rate as they are for men. This is the real problem, as evidenced by the fact that once women graduate law school they leave the legal profession at a shocking rate. It happens for many reasons – one of which involves raising children. However, this is not the only reason for women’s departures from the legal field, especially considering that women are leaving the practice at all phases and stages of their lives, both when young and older.
So, why are women not staying in law?
Here are a few examples of what happens all too often in the field:
- The new, young associate lands the job of a lifetime right out of a judicial clerkship and due to her amazing grades, but she leaves months after starting due to being intimidated by the upbeat, fast-paced world of law she was never taught about in law school.
- The young, brilliant partner with a couple years’ experience decides that after taking the time to only focus on school, passing the bar, and making partner, it’s now time to start dating and possibly having a family. She soon leaves the firm because she realizes having a happy family and working 80 hours a week are not sustainable together.
- The tenured partner has been with the same firm for 40 years but leaves because she is tired of being paid less than her male counterparts while doing the same work.
Still, a lot of change has come about. Firms are increasingly implementing diversity initiatives to boost their number of female attorneys. More work is also being done to make sure they stay around. Women are now in every aspect of the law, from bar association leadership to Supreme Court Justices. Nonetheless, the playing field is not even just yet.
Hopefully soon, it will be.
The progress that is evident in just a few generations of women within the same family is great to recognize and learn from. My grandmother, now 70 years old, has a third-grade education, has never held a job, does not know how to drive, and dedicated her entire life to her family. She was raised to believe that a woman’s job in life was solely to nurture, cook, clean, and make sure her husband was well-cared for, so that he could go out into the world and provide financially for the entire family. My mother, now 49 years old, married my father when she was 16. She obtained her GED after having her first child (me) during her senior year of high school. She worked at Burger King, PNC Bank, and my father’s bodega for a couple years. Thereafter, she obtained a job at Costco and has been there for 22 years. She was raised to believe that a woman’s job was to work hard, in whatever job she could obtain, and to make sure to also handle the children, husband, home, and family tasks. I am 30 years old, obtained my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, then married my husband, obtained my Juris Doctorate, had my first child, bought a home, and am now awaiting my second child. I was raised to believe that a woman’s job in life is:
- To be the best version of herself that she could be,
- To be independent,
- To choose the career that makes her happiest,
- That only hard work pays off, and, most of all,
- That education is key.
My parents did their best by me, while also understanding that life is not completely fair for women. Now, I have a daughter who is almost four years old. She is being raised to know and believe that anything is possible, and that even though the world is not 100 percent fair, we should still work to make it so.