By Anonymous • February 01, 2007•Sexism, Sexual Harassment, and Other Forms of Discrimination
By a 2L at the University of Michigan Law School
Maybe the problem with gender inequality in the legal profession is that we, women, continue to insist that there is a problem with gender inequality in the legal profession. Many of the women’s law club meetings or legal symposia or even lunchtime conversations I have attended have focused on the obstacles facing women in the law – the differential pay, the less-stimulating and prestigious case assignments, the stigma that comes along with being a lawyer-mother. Perhaps it is our own obsession with emphasizing stigmas or prejudices that has led women in the legal profession to continue suffering from effects of those negatives.
Before I continue, and as you can probably assume, I must admit that I am do not consider myself as a feminist. I do care about gender issues, but I do not dwell on them. I am a second year law student, passionate about my future legal career, determined to succeed. I have learned much about professional dynamics from my mother, a successful executive at a diesel engine company; if there was such a thing as the glass ceiling, she has vaulted through, landing far above it. And perhaps it is my luck of witnessing her success that leads me not to fear that my femininity is an obstacle to my own future.
During the interview process at the beginning of 2L year, I interviewed with the “heavyweights” of the Midwest markets. I understand that many women have experiences different than my own, but throughout the entire interview process, I did not encounter a single instance where I felt that I was being judged differently because I was a woman. I wore pant suits and my hair in a ponytail and received the same competitive offers that my male peers received.
I also do not believe that I was treated preferentially because I was a woman. My friends joke, I hope, that I had an upper-hand in interviewing because of my vast, some may call fanatical, interest and knowledge of football. While sports may have come up in interviews from time to time, “Female Football Extraordinaire” is not listed anywhere on my resume. My passion for the sport showed not that I was one of the guys, but that I was an easy-going person who had interests outside the sterile confines of the law firm. I do not believe that being able to share an interest in football with my interviewers weighed any differently on my interview-success than did being able to share my interest of gardening or property tax policy did. It merely demonstrated that there is more to me than the law.
As a competitive swimmer for nearly 15 years, I learned that a positive mental attitude was a key to success. Before important meets, my coach encouraged me to participate in a sort of role-playing practice: “Act as if.” Act as if you deserve to be here. Act as if you are the state champion, the record holder. Act as if no one can beat you. This exercise in confidence prepared me to accept nothing less of myself than all I had.
I encourage my female peers in the legal world to engage in such a practice. Act as if you belong in the firm. Act as if you are worthy of being partner or lead associate. Act as if you deserve the same respect your male peers receive. After you’ve “acted as if” long enough, you will start to believe those mantras; and after you believe, those around you will too.