Gender Inequity in Motorsports; What Can Lawyers Do?
The time for casting stones, calling names, and general gnashing of teeth must come to an end. I’m done yelling about how the horrible ideas of women’s only racing league and the appointment of Carmen Jorda to the Women and Motor Sports Commission. We can keep complaining, but that doesn’t fix anything. Instead, I offer this humbly to the women in motorsports: allow your sisters in the legal realm to advice you. There was a problem, a severe problem, of female representation within all levels of the legal profession, and surprisingly my profession started working on fixing the problem.
Women weren't allowed to sit for the bar and become lawyers in the US until the late 1880s. We had a lot of work to do, and we are getting there. The statistics in law are promising, in January of 2017 36% of the legal profession were women, five years ago it was 33% and in 2000 it was 28.9% (all statistics from the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession). In the legal profession, there are numerous commissions and groups studying the issues unique to women in the profession. There are toolkits and national groups out there for women to succeed in the different and unique issues that face women in our profession (law school, big law firms, small firms, solo practitioners, minority women, government attorneys – the list can go on and on).
Some have complained that despite the countless commissions and initiatives, the results aren’t there. Yep, thirty-six percent is still low when you realize the overall percentage in the world is forty-nine percent (I’m rounding). Thirty-six percent is more than twenty-eight percent, and it’s more than zero percent. The hardest thing to grasp in this fight is that we won’t wake up tomorrow with perfect statistics. It is frustrating to put work into a system and see minuscule changes. Unfortunately, things just don’t work that way.
I think something the legal field does extremely well is the mindset amongst most female women that you are going into a field that is and has been, predominantly male. I can remember when I first started into law school reading on the issues female lawyers faced, it was a topic of conversation that continued on through law school and still happens now in the field. It’s not uncommon for female lawyers to gather outside of work and discuss the still present bias against them. It’s not just to piss and moan, it’s also ways to get through the bias.
Abby said, way back when we first discussed the issue of sexism in motorsports, nurses are known for eating their young. It’s actually not true for female lawyers – seriously! Female lawyers are more apt to reach out to incoming female lawyers and help them, talk with them, watch out for them (don’t believe everything you see in television, we’re not a bunch of catty women in sheath dresses). Women in the legal profession have all accepted the idea that we have to support and look out for one another, that we can’t just let the next generation “figure it out” like we did. We’ve all received the warning about a judge or a senior partner or an opposing counsel who’s notoriously sexist. As weird as this is going to sound: that’s one of the most helpful things in our profession.
Sitting as a female lawyer, it’s hard to figure out how exactly this would translate to the wonderful women in motorsports. I believe the advice I can offer you is this: band together, talk with each other, support each other, and help the younger generation. The last part is most important. Up and coming women in predominantly male professions still face challenges, but they can learn from the women who are before them. It’s a small change, it’s an easy change, it’s a change that will reap rewards in motorsports. Seasoned drivers seek out the younger drivers. Find one or two you like and spend time with them. They’ll learn from you, they may advance quicker than you, and that’s what we need to be cheering. Helping the next generation avoid the pitfalls that the generations before them fell into, avoids them wasting time on things that can be solved. If they do not have to deal with that issue, they get to advance onto the next issue, and so on until we have the moment where this is no longer an issue.
I’ll end this with a story of me putting this into action. A little over two months ago I was asked back to my law school to chat with female law students. One question still sticks with me. A girl reported her friend was passed over for a clerkship because she lacked presence; the girl and her friend were confused as to what that meant. “It’s acting like you belong,” I answered. “It’s taking the minute before you walk into an interview, into a courtroom, into a client meeting: squaring your shoulders, taking a good breath, lifting your head, and entering the room”. That’s what female lawyers struggled with, acting like we belong. That was a big issue for my generation of lawyers, as we were enough generations away from the problem just being overcoming stupid barriers to entry. We could work on it because the generation before started working on it, and told us what worked, and we built off that. My generation, I believe, figured out how to belong, and we then needed to share it with the next generation. Maybe they’ll be the ones to figure out how to get the work/life balance better, or the partner equity fixed. Those are still stumbling blocks we haven’t fixed, so it’s up to them.
What about other professions still struggling with lack of female inclusion, anyone in those professions have advice?