Wednesday, July 7, 2021

ABA President fixes the victim-blaming problem the ABA Journal created for working moms

Yesterday, I was highly critical of the ABA Journal for publishing a column that victim-blamed working moms for their lack of advancement in the legal profession. Then, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo did what she could to fix the injustice created by the journal of the organization she runs.

In her own column—Women's success in legal careers: Lack of advancement is not a 'woman' problem, it’s a 'profession' problem—Refo took apart the notion that female attorneys are to blame for their lack of upward mobility. They have not failed, Refo correct argues, their employers have failed them.

The lack of upward mobility by women in the profession is not because women are not putting in the time and effort, nor is it because they are distracted by other concerns in their lives. Legal employers have plenty of systemic issues that need to be faced head-on when it comes to the promotion and retention of women attorneys. Blaming women attorneys is appalling.

This is not a "woman" problem. It is a legal profession problem rooted in outdated workplace structures. 
Women lawyers are not a homogenous group who all share the same life experiences or home situations. We should not be lecturing women lawyers on how they should adjust their lives to achieve success. 
Certainly, no woman should ever be told she must choose between her career and her family. It is incumbent upon the profession to create a fair and equitable playing field for women. The American Bar Association, which has been led by 10 women presidents, including four of the last five, knows that female lawyers stay in jobs where the culture, policies and practices foster their success and career satisfaction.

It goes without saying that Refo is 100 percent correct. I'm glad she wrote what she wrote to clarify her organization's position. But (and it's a big BUT), the ABA Journal never should have allowed the original column to be published in the first place, and it took Refo an entire week, and only after an insane firestorm of public and online backlash, to say anything in rebuttal. We cannot let that fact go ignored.

Refo concludes her column as follows: "Women lawyers deserve a fair and equitable workplace where the policies and ethos allow them to thrive and does not drive them away. We can do much, much better—for individual women lawyers, for the legal profession and for our clients." As a profession, we can and must do significantly better for our working parents, moms and dads. As I wrote yesterday, "There is no job more important or difficult than parent." I'm pleased that the ABA Journal is no longer making excuses for law firms, their partners, and their policies that treat us as second-class citizens.