Member Groups

The Catalyst
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Women and the Law

June 2004, vol. 9, no. 4

Wildman Harrold hosts “Dismantling the Glass Ceiling” luncheon

On March 11, 2004, Wildman Harrold Allen & Dixon's Women in the Practice of Law group hosted a special luncheon entitled "Dismantling the Glass Ceiling and Other Strategies to Promote Women in the Workforce." Joyce Miller, former Executive Director of the Glass Ceiling Commission for the U.S. Department of Labor and Dr. Arin Reeves, Principal, The Athens Group, Commissioner on the American Bar Association's Commission on Women and Chair of the Chicago Bar Association's Special Commission on Diversity, provided their insights on glass ceiling issues and other concerns affecting working women.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Miller noted that the term "glass ceiling" was first used in a 1987 Wall Street Journal article addressing why women did not get promotions or otherwise progress into leadership and management positions within organizations. The U.S. Department of Labor created the Glass Ceiling Commission in 1991 to evaluate issues impacting women and to ensure equal access and equal opportunity for women in the workplace.

The Commission found barriers for women included: 1) outreach and recruitment efforts often did not reach women and minorities; 2) corporate climate can be alienating for women and minorities; 3) women and minorities often are isolated into certain job categories where leadership and promotion opportunities are more limited; 4) poor training and lack of effective mentoring adversely impacts advancement opportunities; and 5) institutional rigidity denies family and work balance.

In response to these findings, the Commission recommended strategies for improvement that included: 1) creating a workplace environment where employees equally take advantage of policies and leave practices in place; 2) developing better data collection efforts to pinpoint where improvements are actually needed; 3) working to put effective training and mentoring programs in place; and 4) stressing the importance of internal and external communications and networking, particularly for women and minorities, to better understand opportunities, support and resources available.

At one point, Ms. Miller noted that the equal rights movement for women can be best characterized as "you've come a long way baby, but you've got a long way to go."

Dr. Reeves addressed strategies to further women's success in the legal profession. In light of her research and work with law firms, Dr. Reeves recommended two strategies. First, there needs to be structural changes in the legal profession to enhance the success of women lawyers. Second, women need to be empowered as self advocates for their own careers since we cannot wait for longer-term structural changes.

Dr. Reeves reported on recent NALP studies showing that women law students have higher LSAT scores and overall undergraduate GPAs than men law students. Nonetheless, 50 percent of women lawyers will leave law firms within four years. For women of color, the NALP studies show that 100 percent will leave law firms by the end of eight years. Even though women make up 51 percent of law school classes, only 15 percent are law firm partners and only about five percent of those women are equity partners.

As a new Commissioner, Dr. Reeves discussed the work of the ABA's Commission on Women in the Profession. The Commission, established in 1987, was created to assess the status of women in the profession, identify barriers to advancement and recommend to the ABA actions to address problems identified. Its mission is to secure the full and equal participation of women in the ABA, the legal profession and the justice system. The Commission is sponsoring important programs in April and May regarding women in the law leadership academy and a general counsels/managing partner forum. For more information about the Commission and their programs, visit <www.abanet.org/women>.