Each interview respondent was asked to offer solutions to overcome biases in the careers of women lawyers. Lived experience grants important insights into defining problems and solving them. We want to honor the experience and insights of respondents by sharing the depth and breadth of their ideas for making legal careers in Utah more equitable. We share these insights below across eight areas: (1) cultural change, (2) education, (3) mentoring, (4) representation, (5) diversity policies, (6) networking, (7) parental supports and (8) alternative pathways.
We have to start accepting as a society that being a parent is the same for a man as for a woman. We’re both going to be working and women better have the opportunity without the guilt. Get their education, pursue their goals and then their children will be the better for it. The key is how to raise women to feel as free as the men we are raising to pursue what they want to pursue, to think deeply about what they want to think deeply about. The big issue requires consistent societal change in how we raise and treat our girls. Regardless of your religious beliefs, we all benefit if we can figure out how to raise women and men to understand: you get to choose who you are.
I think for them [women] to be prepared just to understand what it is they are getting into, that it will be okay, there will be people who say negative things, positive things. [women should] develop a thick skin to be able to get through that.
One thing that might help is shifting the culture to more involved fathers because if the culture thinks that stay at home parent is important and that can be the father as well then you don’t have to give up as much as a working woman.
A way to help is to put women—encourage women—to go into the high paying jobs where they are fulfilled, it pays for childcare then it’s worth it.
One of the things is to teach women you are valuable, it’s okay to ask for these things, we’ve been taught to shy away from conflict, that’s not our role.
Changes in attitude are key. I’ve said to other women, what can we do? One thing I can do is I raised sons. And my sons are different.
I think some “call out” culture would be nice...Bringing some attention to it. The first [WLU] report was helpful in doing that, and I think having a more nuanced report will be helpful. There were a lot of CLEs around it, a lot of people attended those.
You need to educate more on ways and means to pay for things. Minorities are afraid to take out debt. We need to expand people’s horizon. High school, college, let people know law schools have scholarships now.
I think it’s important for women to plan for it and not just find themselves there. By that I mean we should be encouraging women in undergrad to get the highest GPA possible because that will get them the scholarship and if they are on scholarship or doing really well in their class, that’s what will get them the good jobs.
A lot of it is education and encouragement...that’s why I get involved in the stuff at the law school is to try to encourage the girls that are planning to go out and have a career.
I don’t think the children are encouraged to go [to law school]. Both at home and in school. I still think there is a bit of latent racism that teachers, with their implicit bias without even realizing it, just don’t gear those kids towards those roles. I don’t know that many children of color have that same level of support [that white children have] at home and at school. There needs to be a lot more of that.
It's helpful for women as students at the law schools and maybe even before and newer attorneys to just be exposed to the fact that there are different ways to do it [alternative schedules]... if we could present those alternatives and make them more visible to students and let them know they're out there, then they might not dismiss the possibility outright.
Career counselors could be a great help, networking with people who have done things in different ways so people can see there are more options than the typical career path.
If you are going to start, start earlier. In high school and college. Say, look this is a cool career. We’ve talked about going into the high schools. You can be a mom and do it…. Start the pipeline a lot sooner than what we’re starting it at.
Some of it is you can’t be what you can’t see so there is again being one of the few Brown ladies in law, there’s been a lot of pressure to be more visual to those kiddos, which is why we’re thinking about this mentoring program. Truth be told, that’s how I got started. My friend’s dad was a judge in Texas and I learned Brown people can be judges…. There really does need to be a push for lawyers of color to be really visual, visible and it sucks cause we’re already so busy.
If they [the WLU] were able to do more one-on-one mentoring, that would work.
What women attorneys can do, find a mentor, understand you’re not the only one out there.
It really helps to have a woman who could give real and meaningful
I think those women who have actually continued on and worked and if they could explain their reasons and rationale to the women who are considering leaving that might help. Maybe in law schools, early careers, maybe Utah State’s Bar have to set something up where women can get together and hear other more experienced women talk about issues.
Get women in leadership, so women realize they can do it too.
More discourse might help. More examples if women saw examples of other women.
Having more female judges would be a very good thing...I’m sure when there’s more women and the disparity on the bench changes, that will help.
A lot of it is exposing young people [to the legal field].
It’s just getting more women on the bench.
I think that the more women we see making decisions about this, the more we’ll see women being promoted.
Encourage women, seeking out qualified women, you should apply for the bench too, also provide training for them and help and resources to improve their chances. I do actually think that’s necessary in my legal community in SLC and state of Utah as a whole.
As women we need to promote each other and not be afraid of what the male will think. When women do it, it’s another woman promoting another woman. When a man does it, it’s just business. Despite what people say, support women, but don’t [if you] realize that their practices hurt women or disrupt women’s lives.
I know there were conversations about in the past, trying to ensure that women got better roles and projects within law firms. And how as an in-house person, I can move the needle on that. I consciously hire women.
Being active with their [diversity] policies and helping and implementing those is important. Especially the partners making sure they are encouraging those policies.
A lot of firms are pushing a lot of resources into recruitment and not enough into retaining attorneys of color….I feel like [diversity and inclusion have] become buzzwords, and that they can adopt a different meaning depending on the context…And so I hate the words…I’m hopeful that we will see more programs that recruit people of color and support people of color. And that people really will start to see the benefits of having a diverse outlook.
CLE panels where we actually ask male attorneys and female attorneys at the management level of firms to come and meet with us so that we can talk to them about some of the implicit bias, some of the not-so-implicit bias, some of these problems, methods they can take at management level.
If we had more diversity targeting in hiring, it would be good for this office.
Definitely affirmative action is passé but it still needs to be a part of promoting women and minorities in Utah.
I really think that when we think of inclusion and diversity and the law in Utah, we think of women. We don’t think of people of color. As a woman of color, I know who my allies are. And many times the White women are not my allies. So people think, if we get a woman, then we hit the diversity quota. Right? Or let’s get a woman and then they don’t consider the only Black male in the state….
Things get done on the surface but we don’t dive any deeper. There’s a racial inclusion provision at the Bar that everyone adopted and then nothing happened with that. The committees are still White people. There’s no people of color on the committees that I work on. They’re mostly all White people but they all have a diversity and inclusion policy, we all did that. But there’s no real work being done on it.
We’ve come a long way in the sense that we had an inherent bias training at one of the conferences. One of the judges was offended they had to sit through it because they think it’s not them… They just think, well, I’m not grabbing anybody’s butt so I don’t have any bias or any harassing behavior… [We need to] recognize that it’s institutional, everybody plays some role in that, and that we need to keep focusing on it.
Firms actively supporting socializing with other attorneys and making sure, not mandating that you have to invite the women colleagues, but [there should be] something that helps encourage socializing within the firm between male and female [attorneys].
One of the things I think is developing a good relationship with coworkers and trying to balance...Developing networks of people to help share the load.
Some firms have actually built sort of a, sort of practice group, that's like women in law practice group...they meet together and talk about women's issues at the firm and in the practice generally... I think it would be nice to just have that kind of set structure.
Law, it’s a hard job. There’s a lot of mental illness. Here’s my belief on wellness: it’s friends. Women need more friends, we need more colleagues. We need to reach out, talk. The problem with the wellness stuff is we’re expected to deal with it all, and not drop any of the balls. But if you have colleagues you can call, we need networking. Once you get to it, you need to support it. Women drop off at every stage because they’re not supported.
I think more flexibility [is the best recommendation].
Flex time, alternate work schedules. Something that is really important in keeping women in the law.
I don’t know if people realize how hard you’ll work if you’re given the opportunity to find the right balance for yourself. If and when women need it, give them the flexibility they need. And some men might need it. To be able to do that, you’re going to buy loyalty and hard work. It’s going to pay off huge in the future.
I would not suggest a young woman to take a partner track to take time off. A lot of women do have children but that’s after they have job...You have to obtain the job, show your worth then do whatever you want.
I think a message of just it’s okay to work while you have kids, as that becomes more mainstream even in the LDS population, that will help.
One area where Salt Lake City is behind is paternity leave. That needs to change and needs to change quickly.
There needs to be better support among firms and a greater judiciary and law community about what it means to be a woman in the law if you have young children.
You got to be willing to be flexible especially when moms are balancing young kids. It’s just different. If we value that, we have to make it work for them. Meaningful paid leave, work from home options, the ability to wind down and jump down when and if they're ready.
Childcare is so expensive and, you know, it’s so expensive and I think that more affordable childcare [would help women’s careers].
I took 4½ months [of parental leave]. Because again my incredible female boss at the time said—I think she was very concerned about me leaving—she was very aware of women dropping out of the profession when they have children. She said, ‘You take as much time as you want and when you come back, you can work whatever schedule you want, you can work at home two days a week, just don’t quit. There are studies that I saw somewhere that showed if, I think it was specific to female attorneys, if they have four months of leave the likelihood of their coming back significantly increases. And I felt like, yeah, I can see that.
Alternative Career & Family Pathways
Women need to see you don’t just have to practice full time at a big firm.
And then my husband was a stay-at-home dad for 10 years…. And so when we made the decision to have children, I told him, “I would really rather have a stay home parent but it is not going to be me. That’s not what I want to do. And plus, I can make sometimes more money than you can.” And he said, “Absolutely! I want to stay home. I don’t want to put my infant into daycare. I want to wait until they’re older. And I will stay out for them.”
My husband stopped working [when I graduated from law school]…I love knowing my kids are home with the person I trust the most in the world. It just kind of works for us. I’m very much not a homebody. I would go crazy being a stay at home mom. But we wanted someone to be home when the kids were young. I have a higher earning capacity and a stronger desire to work. We made the agreement and it works great.
[A solo career] is the way to go for everyone. There’s no tradeoff. I do my work and I get 100% of what I make. My reputation is 100% based on what I do. I have a bunch of women friends who work at firms. They do so much of the guys’ work, the reputation building, and they get screwed. I ask all the time, why don’t you go out on your own? …I’m thinking of five women where financially it doesn’t make sense to do what they’re doing. Taking on all the work but not making all the money. And I can think of other solo women and we make a lot more money. A lot more than our friends in firms.
[As a solo practitioner] you call every shot. You also take all the hits. You deal with all the finances. The benefit is you make all the decisions.
Look at how many women have stay-at-home husbands now. It’s just not well known. We just need to make it more commonplace.
I was able to convince my husband to be a stay-at-home dad. He agreed. He quit and from then on it was really easy…I’ve always said I couldn’t have done what I did without that.