On Being a Woman Attorney

Susan - Weaverville, North Carolina
Entered on October 29, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

July 5, 2008

Dear Sisters in the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys,

I came to this association as a law student who had experienced sexual harassment in the classroom and gender discrimination in the interview process, but I had also experienced strong personal examples of equality, leadership and compassion in gender and race issues.

I came to this board challenged by personal life events. Some in my control, some not. I came to this board having birthed naturally, breast-fed, and having challenged my career choice.

I came to this board a second time, grounded in a Sacred Swirl. I came knowing that pay equity had not progressed; knowing numbers in leadership and power positions had not grown in relationship with the number of women attorneys in the profession. I came aspiring to be nothing less than at the top of my profession.

But, I came dancing in and on the spirit of strong women who led before and around me. With such support, I came to say, this I believe:

I believe in the strength and commitment of a group of women coming together to better their lives and the lives of others. I believe in the great dance of life and that it must be shared to be fully realized.

I believe that gender and ethnic discrimination still exist and are both blatant and insidious in the legal profession and in the legal system. I believe that terms like gender- neutral and colorblind maintain the status quo and that progress requires all of us to be gender inclusive and color embracing.

I believe that we must back up words with action.

I believe anyone can be great when she first commits to serve others.

I believe that the first foremothers of our association were courageous leaders because they sought to serve not only themselves, but all the women in North Carolina.

I believe they were not made to fit into the partnership track of a large firm. I believe their career paths served a different need: to strengthen diversity in the legal profession. I believe large firms are only part of who we are as a profession. Lawyers are also educators, government employees, administrators, mediators, legislators, judges, developers, and entrepreneurs. I believe it is harder for men to choose these careers.

I believe that “professionalism” by definition should include an embracing of diversity, integrity, self – reflection and humility. I believe that connecting the Sacred to your profession produces a “Calling” which you cannot and should not deny.

I believe that NCAWA has made changes to better the lives of women and women attorneys in North Carolina. I believe that many younger women attorneys don’t appreciate the hardships endured to create the opportunities they now have and that older women attorneys don’t appreciate the hardships endured by a younger generation trapped by high expectations, high student debt, high material standards, the continuing rigid structure for men and the increased internal competitiveness in large firms.

I believe that women attorneys frequently do not encounter life – changing discrimination until they choose to care for their families. I believe that women are still the primary caregivers and that our society does not value the raising of children or the role of caring for the elderly. I believe every man should spend time with his children and with his parents. I believe that multitasking is a caregiver’s trait. I believe a sole breadwinner doesn’t have as many options as someone with a supportive partner or personal wealth. I believe that women are in the workforce for a shorter period of time, live longer and earn less. And that not much has changed in 30 years to address this inequity.

I believe all of our association’s goals are worthy, but when we better the lives of all women we are meeting a higher definition of justice. I believe when we better the lives of women under the law, we improve the welfare of women attorneys. I believe NCAWA connects my desire to care for people with my love of a just and merciful system.

I believe in the quiet wisdom the worn down Appalachian Mountains teach and the strength that a mighty river displays. These are my guides.

I believe in the freshness of a new raindrop and the energy of a spinning spider. These are my guides. These guides reflect our membership.

I believe that 30 years is worth celebrating, but will only be a drop in the bucket, a snapshot in time, as we continue to grow into our future.

I believe that when a woman gains a law degree, she gains the responsibility to be a leader; that she can choose to let others define it, or she can with intention shape her life to be an example.

I believe in gratitude, but often find it hard to feel.

I believe I have felt it this year, and can only say “My cup runneth over” in thanks for letting me be your President during this historic year.

In deep joy…