When Orrick partner Pat Gillette, who earned her JD in 1976, first entered the legal profession, she and other women knew they had to be tough to make it in what was then a near-total Man’s World. Today, discrimination is more covert, Gillette says, but women, especially the Gen Y, aren’t as primed for the fight.
To help women along the path to power, the San Francisco Bar Association is rejuvenating its No Glass Ceiling initiative this year. One goal is to increase the number of women in leadership and power positions to 30 percent by 2015. And by ‘power,’ the task force doesn’t mean ‘head of the summer associate committee,’ Gillette says. It’s got its eyes on titles such as ‘head of litigation,’ or member of the executive or compensation committee.
The task force is holding a series of conferences geared toward specific career stages and the particular skills that come in handy during each. When men build their careers, Gillette says, they ask for things, they tell you what they’ve done and they assume they’ll be successful. “Women,” Gillette says, “don’t ask, don’t tell and they worry constantly about whether they’re good enough.”
During the first meeting on March 25, which Gillette says attracted about 120 lawyers, the pep talk focused on senior associates, junior partners and in-house corporate counsel. Speakers, which included Carol Corrigan, associate justice of the California Supreme Court, drove home the point that at that career stage, young women need to align themselves with powerful leaders at their firm and ask to be invited on client pitches.
They need to drop their reluctance to engage in self-promotion, she adds.
In October, the task force will prep midlevel associates. In June, it will focus on incoming associates — a particularly vulnerable group, according to Gillette. They come from a world in which everything is possible for everyone, in which they could do whatever they wanted and go wherever they wanted, Gillette notes. Entering the legal profession, Gillette says, means they’re about to enter a business, with all its entrenched biases and stiff hierarchies. “They’ll be judged harshly for the first time ever,” she said. “It’s not all equal.”