In my last column titled, “The Commitment to Diversity Should Be A Badge Worn Everyday,” I quoted statistics showing that we still have a long way to go to achieve diversity in the legal profession in Illinois. So when Barbara J. Howard, President of the Ohio State Bar Association, spoke at the ISBA’s Celebrating Women in the Profession on March 9, 2010, and quoted statistics showing that Ohio also has a long way to go to achieve diversity, I felt a sense of mutual purpose to roll up our sleeves and unite.
In a room full of trailblazers and young attorneys, Barbara Howard recounted her first job interview for an associate’s position in an all-male law firm 20-some years ago. Although the partner in the firm was impressed with Barbara’s qualifications, he wanted to meet her husband before making the final decision. As we all in that room knew, the partner probably did not ask Barbara’s male counterparts to do the same. Barbara, like many other female attorneys and judges in that room, stood up against discriminatory conduct like this and declined the offer. Needless to say, Barbara Howard still ended up being very successful in her legal profession and in the legal community.
There have been strides made since the start of Barbara Howard’s career, including many ISBA events such as the Celebrating Women in the Profession Luncheon in which two trailblazers, Honorable Susan F. Hutchinson of the Second District Appellate Court and Honorable Jane L. Stuart, Cook County Circuit Judge, were honored with ISBA’s Presidential Commendation Awards. Then just this past April 9, 2010, our Committee, along with the Standing Committee on Women and the Law, presented a day program for the Northern Illinois University law students in DeKalb. There, NIUCOL Dean Jennifer Rosato gave words of wisdom that networking can be a very effective career tool, especially in light of the current economy. Judge Hutchison recounted the dismal pay that judges received when she was first appointed to the bench and some of the uncivil and sexist comments that she received while on the bench. Paula Holderman gave a great presentation on the study supporting networking, as well as the how-to skills on networking and introduction. Then after the program, both committees held a reception for attorneys in the surrounding area, giving the students the perfect opportunity to practice the skills.
Under the immense support and push by President John O’Brien, the ISBA is taking action to ensure and encourage more diversity into the ISBA leadership. One of the action steps is the creation and implementation of the Diversity Leadership Council’s fellowship program. This program provides diverse attorneys the opportunity to “walk” in the shoes of more seasoned ISBA leaders and attend committee meetings, Assembly meetings, and Board of Governors meetings, as well as other programs in order to immerse the “newcomers” into the internal operating structure of the ISBA. By getting a peek into the ISBA, they, in turn, may become more active in the ISBA. Programs like these open the door to minorities and females. The drive and incentive to become active in the ISBA, however, has to be from within. So all those out there who want to make a difference and change the ISBA, you have to stand up and say yes to the opportunity.
Since this is my last chair’s column, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all the members of our wonderful Committee for their dedication, energy, and tireless efforts this year. I know that I am leaving this Committee in good hands with Amina Saeed as the next chair. ■