International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. After the Socialist Party of America organized a Women's Day in New York City on February 28, 1909, German revolutionary Clara Zetkin proposed at the 1910 International Socialist Woman’s Conference that March 8 be honored annually in memory of working women. The day has been celebrated as International Women’s Day or International Working Women’s Day ever since.
The 2020 campaign theme for International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual, which upholds the concept of equality that says ‘An Equal World for an Enabled World.’ The goal of this particular campaign is to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations, and celebrate women’s achievements.
Legal Milestones in Women’s Rights
1848 - At Seneca Falls, NY, 300 women and men sign the Declaration of Sentiments, a plea for the end of discrimination against women.
1869 - Arabella Mansfield is granted admission to practice law in Iowa, making her the first female attorney. The following year, Ada H. Kepley becomes the first woman in the United States to graduate from law school.
1900 - By this year, every state had passed legislation granting married women the right to keep their own wages and to own property in their own name.
1916 - Jeannette Rankin, of Montana, is the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
1920 - The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, ensuring the right of women to vote.
1932 - Hattie Wyatt Caraway, of Arkansas, becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
1933 - Frances Perkins becomes the first female cabinet member, appointed Secretary of Labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
1963 - The Equal Pay Act is passed by Congress, promising equitable wages for the same work, regardless of the race, color, religion, national origin, or sex of the worker.
1964 - Title VII of the Civil Rights Act passes including a prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.
1972 - Title IX of the Education Amendments prohibits sex discrimination in all aspects of education programs that receive federal support.
1973 - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, protecting a woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.
1975 - The Supreme Court denies states the right to exclude women from juries.
1978 - The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employment discrimination against pregnant women.
1981 - Sandra Day O’Connor becomes first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
1994 - The Violence Against Women Act funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence and allows women to seek civil rights remedies for gender-related crimes. Six years later, the Supreme Court invalidates those portions of the law permitting victims of rape, domestic violence, etc. to sue their attackers in federal court.
1997 - Madeleine Albright become the first female Secretary of State.
2007 - Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female Speaker of the House.
2013 - The ban against women in military combat positions is removed, overturning a 1994 Pentagon decision restricting women from combat roles.
2017 - Congress has a record number of women, with 104 female House members and 21 female Senators.
Women in the Legal Industry
Based on 2018 U.S. Census Data, there are more than 400,000 female attorneys in the U.S., making up just 38% of attorneys. Growth in women’s labor force participation, as well as women entering historically nontraditional occupations, account for much of the increase in the current number of female attorneys. Although women have been graduating from law school at nearly the same rate as men for more than two decades, recent statistics show that women make up only 40% of practicing attorneys over age 40 and only 27% of attorneys over age 50.
In 2017, former ABA President Hilarie Bass requested extensive research be conducted on the “unique issues and career dynamics facing women attorneys in practice for over 20 years, and explore the reasons for their disproportionately high rate of attrition.”
Preliminary results from a survey of 1,300 respondents from the nation’s 350 largest firms, conducted in partnership with ALM Intelligence, emphasized the disparate challenges, stereotypes, and burdens female attorneys faced compared to their male colleagues, even at the senior level. For example:
- 81% of women say they were mistaken for a lower-level employee, but this did not happen to men.
- 60% of women said they had left firms because of caretaking commitments, compared to 46% of men.
- 54% of women said they were responsible for arranging childcare, compared to 1% of men.
- 39% of women said the task of cooking meals fell on their shoulders, compared to 11% of men.
- 34% of women say they leave work for children’s needs, compared to 5% of men.
Moreover, there is a significant disparity between how well law firm leaders think they are doing in achieving progress for female attorneys, and how women in law firms perceive the success of those attempts. While 79% of managing partners believe that their firm has made gender diversity a priority, only 54% of women agree. Likewise, while 75% of managing partners believe their firm has a culture that promotes women into leadership roles, only 55% of women agree. Additionally, while 64% of managing partners believe their firm has been successful at retaining female attorneys, only 47% of women agree.
Notably, men and women both had comparable overall satisfaction with the practice of law, a statistic researchers say underscores that women don’t want to leave because they disfavor this profession — they leave instead because they feel forced out.
Based on the available data, it is clear that if meaningful and effective steps are not taken to address the departure of female attorneys from this industry, it will be nearly impossible to attain gender equality within the legal sector. What is preventing female attorneys from progressing in this career field at the same rate of men “isn’t a lack of drive or commitment, a failure to promote themselves, or an unwillingness to work hard or to make substantial sacrifices.” Women’s greatest blockades to success is the structure and culture of the legal industry. With the number of women graduating from law school and entering the legal industry being at an all-time high, it’s critical for the industry to re-design itself to eradicate the barriers and obstacles that continue to confront female attorneys and result in their premature departure from the profession.
International Women’s Day’s #EachforEqual campaign theme is a strong demonstration of how imperative it is that we address the disparities facing female attorneys and strive for a more inclusive professional environment. Female attorneys are valuable assets to the legal profession, and have greatly contributed to its evolution, but their interests and worth are not being protected in the current professional climate.
“Too many great minds are leaving the profession,” said JoAnne Epps, executive vice president and provost of Temple University. “Everyone needs to care about that — not just women, not just men. I really believe that what we bring is valuable, and our loss is significant. If people recognize it’s a crisis, it’s a step in the process to fix this.” Ultimately, the legal profession’s willingness and dedication to change, and the recognition of the value women bring to this industry, are the only assurances of the advancement and retention of female attorneys.
Whitcomb, Selinsky, PC Feature: Daniela Tarolli
Daniela Tarolli, a valued member of the firm’s litigation team, shares her thoughts on what it means to be a female attorney:
Archaic perceptions have taught women that they cannot make it in a man’s world; however, my personal experiences have taught me otherwise. Although women still represent a minority in the legal profession, our presence has, and will, continue to grow.
With professional affiliations, such as Women’s Bar Associations, women are afforded the opportunity to meet and elevate other female attorneys. Not only do these groups pose a great opportunity for networking, but they also provide a bonding experience for female attorneys to gather and discuss any problems they may face.
The female legal community represents unity and solidarity, and I’m proud to be a part of it.