This Tuesday, March 8th is International Women’s Day, and in preparation for two talks that I am leading this week, I came across some very sobering statistics. According to a recent LeanIn study, 1 in 3 women have considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers during this pandemic. Burnout is real, and although I have seen it first-hand in the legal industry over the past two decades, the numbers are far worse than what I imagined. From a recent ABA study I learned that of the 1.3 million licensed and actively practicing attorneys in the U.S., approximately 86% are non-Hispanic whites; only about 5% are Hispanic like me, and just 23% of equity partners are women.
The only way change can happen is if we are honest, rather than just suffering in silence. It is no secret that many companies, particularly law firms in major cities have continued to resist requests for more flexible schedules and work/life balance. This is the very reason I have run my own family law firm for over a decade, while also juggling the responsibilities of being a single mother. Many of my female colleagues have since followed suit for the same reason, while others have opted to leave the profession entirely or transfer from private sector to government or non-profit jobs.
Last month, I attended a webinar hosted by my alma mater, Georgetown University. The female speakers shared very candid experiences about (1) coping with failure/rejection, (2) learning to take risks, and (3) gaining confidence over time to become more authentic. Their message was clear– women take rejection much more personally than men, we take fewer risks in business, and it seems we need more time to comfortably speak up. All of this resonates with me, and it begs the question how can we improve without openly discussing the unique challenges we have all faced as women?
While we have certainly made progress in the 104 years since the 19th Amendment was passed allowing women the right to vote (which almost coincides with when my grandmother was born), we have to recognize that we still have many obstacles to tackle. Ultimately it comes down to truly knowing what you are worth– not just at work, but also at home. As Sheryl Sandberg said in Lean In, one of the most important decisions a woman will ever make in her life is the life partner she chooses for herself. Sadly, this message is not emphasized enough, and too many wind up in unhappy, dysfunctional or abusive relationships that inevitably impede their ability to fully thrive or find satisfaction in life.
My grandmother never married and either did my mother, which we can all agree are rather radical choices for their time, especially as Catholics from Latin America. Not only did they instill the importance of self-reliance and independence in me, but it is because of them that everyone knows I don’t suffer fools well. This unique upbringing has undoubtedly shaped me and allowed me to be an anchor for my divorce clients during their most trying times. Many fear being alone, whereas my greatest fear is to be stuck suffering.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, and Women’s History Month I encourage all of you to recognize the accomplishments not just of your female colleagues, but within your own families of your grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, and wives. Let them know that you value their contributions, the lessons they have taught you, and the love they have provided you. All these gifts are freely given, but it is always nice to be appreciated and have our efforts recognized.
Together we shall thrive.
Please check out the report: Women in the Workplace 2021: The Full Report (leanin.org)
By Regina A. DeMeo