Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 9

TOWARD WELL-BEING

Overcoming Culture
of Exclusion in Law

W

By Denise Perme, LICSW

hen the late U.S.
Supreme Court Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
graduated at the top of
her Columbia Law School class in
1959, she applied to 13 law firms
and was turned down by all of
them because she was a woman.

premature departure from the profession. In
fact, women comprise only 19.5 percent of
equity partners, according to a 2018 survey by
the National Association of Women Lawyers.
Bias also causes insidious long-term damage
to a lawyer's self-esteem and mental health.
We regularly see lawyers in the D.C. Bar Lawyer
Assistance Program struggling with the mental
health effects of these problems.

In a scene from the movie On the Basis of Sex,
Felicity Jones, playing a young Justice Ginsburg, describes the job interviews she endured
after graduation. Responding to a partner who
guesses she had interviewed at many firms
with no success, she states: " One sent me to
interview for the secretarial pool. Another told
me I'd be too busy at bake sales to be effective.
. . . Last week, I was told women are too emotional to be lawyers. Then that same afternoon,
that a woman graduating top of her class must
be a real ballbuster and wouldn't make a good
colleague. " At the end of the scene, the partner
informs Ginsburg that his firm cannot hire her
because the partners' wives would object.

In the 2020 ABA report " Left Out and Left
Behind: The Hurdles, Hassles, and Heartaches of
Achieving Long-Term Legal Careers for Women
of Color, " the authors found it telling that they
were unable to collect a statistically significant
sample of women of color who had practiced
law for more than 20 years. Unfortunately,
one statistic has remained unchanged over the
past two decades: Women of color represent
only about 2 percent of all equity partners
at large law firms. Implicit biases give rise to
the assumption that a Black woman cannot
possibly be one of the lawyers in the room.
Black lawyers, especially women, are often
confused for custodial, administrative, or
courtroom staff.

Of course, much has changed for women in
the law since the 1950s. Gender bias occurs less
overtly than it did when Justice Ginsburg was
seeking a position in a firm. Unfortunately,
there are powerful remnants of the challenges
Justice Ginsburg faced that still greatly impact
women lawyers today. The 2018 ABA report
" You Can't Change What You Can't See:
Interrupting Racial & Gender Bias in the Legal
Profession " makes clear that these obstacles
to career satisfaction continue to damage the
legal profession and cause well-being challenges for women in the law.
Implicit gender bias causes significant emotional distress and no doubt plays a role in high
levels of stress and anxiety in women lawyers.
Their experiences ultimately lead to their

DOUBLE THE BIAS
FOR WOMEN OF COLOR

According to the report, law firm culture makes
women of color feel invisible. They work twice
as hard, may receive little to no recognition for
their contributions, and see their efforts being
repeatedly disregarded as plum assignments
go to white colleagues. It is no wonder women
of color have the highest attrition rate in
law firms. These experiences with racial and
gender bias leave Black women lawyers feeling
excluded, like they are on the outside looking
in. This isolating experience negatively impacts
their well-being.
Inclusion and a feeling of belonging are crucial
components of mental health. As lawyer and
organizational psychologist Anne Brafford
writes in Enabling Lawyer Well-Being Through

Diversity and Inclusion,
Inclusion, " Employees' perceptions
that they don't belong - i.e., that they're not
accepted, respected, or supported - are
related to depressive symptoms, alcohol and
drug use, and suicidal thinking. "

SAFE SPACE TO EXHALE
In the face of these challenges, building a supportive community is necessary to promote
women's emotional health and well-being,
says international trade attorney Andrea Ewart,
founder and CEO of DevelopTradeLaw, LLC.
Ewart is also a board member of Women
Owned Law, an organization that serves the
needs of women attorneys who have founded
their own firms.
" As a young associate I joined GWAC, the Greater
Washington Area Chapter, Women Lawyers
Division, National Bar Association, where I found
a community of young women attorneys of
color, " Ewart says. She knows that inadequate
mentoring makes it more difficult for women
to achieve their highest career potential. " As an
active member of the Organization of Women
in International Trade, I have developed leadership skills, grown my network, and over time
mentored other women. "
Ewart, a member of the D.C. Bar Lawyer
Assistance Committee, served as a consultant
for this column and provided valuable insight.
" Finding and building community has been
integral to my well-being as a woman attorney
of color, " Ewart says. " We all need a safe space
where we can exhale and find much-needed
validation. I invite all women attorneys who
have not yet done so to define and build their
own community and safeguard their wellbeing. "
Denise Perme is manager of the D.C. Bar Lawyer
Assistance Program, a free and confidential
resource for D.C. Bar members. Email lap@dcbar.
org or visit dcbar.org/lap for assistance in
navigating well-being challenges.

MARCH/APRIL 2021

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WASHINGTON LAWYER

9


http://www.dcbar.org/lap

Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021

Digital Extras
From Our President
Calendar of Events
Practice Management
Toward Well-Being
Staying Put in Big Law feature
A Sisterhood of Latina Lawyers Sidebar
Increasing Diversity & Inclusion the the Legal Profession feature
Cultivate Mentorships sidebar
A Tribute to Judge June L. Green feature
Delicate Balance for Black Women Attorneys in Government Feature
Falling Short on Disability Inclusion feature
Elusive Justice in Violence Against Native Women feature
Worth Reading
On Further Review
The Learning Curve
Member Spotlight - Marcia Madsen
Member Spotlight - Simon Zinger
ABA Delegates Corner
Attorney Briefs
Speaking of Ethics
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effecy
A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 1
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 2
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 3
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 5
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Toward Well-Being
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Staying Put in Big Law feature
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 11
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - A Sisterhood of Latina Lawyers Sidebar
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 13
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Increasing Diversity & Inclusion the the Legal Profession feature
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 15
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Cultivate Mentorships sidebar
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 17
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - A Tribute to Judge June L. Green feature
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 19
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 20
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 21
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Delicate Balance for Black Women Attorneys in Government Feature
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 23
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 24
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 25
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Falling Short on Disability Inclusion feature
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 27
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 28
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 29
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Elusive Justice in Violence Against Native Women feature
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 31
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 32
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 34
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 35
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - The Learning Curve
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Member Spotlight - Marcia Madsen
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Member Spotlight - Simon Zinger
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 40
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 41
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - ABA Delegates Corner
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Speaking of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 45
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 47
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - The Pro Bono Effecy
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 49
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 50
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - 51
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2021 - Cover4
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