Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Pennsylvania First Lady and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell says equality for women in the legal profession has come a long way since she was starting out but there is still a lot of work to be done. Rendell was speaking to members of the Allegheny County Bar association at a luncheon to launch the ACBA Institute for Gender Equality. She remembered back to her younger days when a judge remarked, “she should be a model,” when she introduced herself as the lawyer of the man standing next to her not his client. She also quipped about lying when accused of having a burping baby on her shoulder during a conference call. The institute will begin holding classes for both practitioners and law firm decision makers next month. The classes will focus on the advancement of women in leadership positions in the Allegheny County legal community, the elimination of the gender wage gap, and the expansion of the avenues through which female attorneys can build successful careers. Classes will also be held for law students. ACBA President-Elect Gary Hunt says attendees will be surprised what they learn about themselves while taking the class. Marjorie Rendell praised the ACBA for taking action and not just talking about the issue. She says, “The challenge is to identify what we need to do to reshape the institutions and I commend you for realizing that institutions cannot be reshaped without reshaping individual attitudes.” The formation of the Institute was one of the recommendations that came on the heals of a 2005 ACBA membership survey showed little or no improvement in gender equality when compared to a survey completed in 1990. A recent study found 20% of male lawyers in the county make $250,000 or more while just 5% of women hit that mark. Rendell says she doubts that most places where inequity exists the managers consciously decided women will get paid less. She says, “It just seems that the value put on a women’s work, even if it is ostensibly the same, is sometimes less.” The ACBA says 17.3% of partners in law firms nationwide are women but the number is just 15.8% in Allegheny County.