Taking Down the ‘No Girls Allowed’ Signs in Big Law (Bloomberg Law)
Taking Down the ‘No Girls Allowed’ Signs in Big Law
It’s beyond time for the legal industry to end discrimination against women attorneys—in terms of pay, opportunity, and promotion, says Ann Olivarius, chair and founding partner of McAllister Olivarius, a transatlantic law firm specializing in cases of race and gender discrimination. She offers concrete steps law firms—and the mostly men in power—should take to remove the antiquated “No Girls Allowed” sign.
In this Bloomberg Law op-ed, Dr. Ann Olivarius outline six simple steps law firms can take to end discrimination against women attorneys when it comes to pay, opportunity, and promotion.
- Stop Hiding
Firms should commit to renouncing the use of non-disclosure agreements and private arbitration for in-house sexual discrimination and harassment complaints—unless specifically requested by the complainant. If Microsoft can stop pushing women to settle privately, so can our own industry.
- Emulate Iceland
Starting in 2018, Iceland required large businesses to show evidence of fair pay. American law firms should follow suit by releasing annual gender audits of salaries, positions, opportunities offered, and plans for redressing gaps. The American Bar Association could use these audits to award what then-Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris called “Equal Pay Certificates.”
- Set a Date for Equity
Starting in 2006, the National Association of Women Lawyers has regularly challenged firms to achieve 30% women as partners—all to no avail. Today, a large firm can proudly earn a “Gold Standard” from the Women in Law Empowerment Forum for having only 25% women partners, or 40% of new ones.
Let’s set a timetable: 30% by 2025, and 50% by end of the decade. And put that pledge, and its progress, on the firm homepage, next to the typical row of awards and accolades.
- Expand Leadership
Male styles of management remain the standard. But women scholars have for decades advised on how to expand leadership to be more inclusive, thus, more effective and profitable. It’s time for managing partners to read these works. And, incidentally, they should update the décor and ethos to no longer resemble the cigar lounge.
In my firm, we have an open office plan, flat hierarchy decision-making, and display quotes from notable women such as Margaret Mead, Gloria Steinem, and Mary Wollstonecraft. An institution sends a powerful message when it prominently features women, which is why I helped spearhead the first female portrait ever to be displayed in Rhodes House at Oxford.
- Send the Men Home
Long before Covid-19, female lawyers struggled to balance work and family—their male colleagues relied on their wives—and so asked for reduced hours and flexible working arrangements. But women need something else: fairness at home with the kids, cooking, and cleaning. Tell the guys in your firm to man up by acting more like a mother. Make flexible work work for them, too.
- Step Forward
My last point is addressed to women: If you do experience discrimination, file a formal grievance and, if necessary, a lawsuit. Both are awful experiences, as I know from my own caseload of brave women and my own early workplace experiences. But we need to help each other, and airing the sexist dirty laundry is a painful, but necessary, step.