A MARKER OF PROGRESS, EVEN THOUGH PROGRESS HAS BEEN LIMITED
After the event and the award ceremony, several judges, professors, and students met to discuss the proposed ideas and the overall issue of equality in law firms.
“I think this event is a marker of our progress,” says Professor Deborah Rhode, director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford Law School. But, she adds, “As someone who has been studying this issue for over three decades, I’m continually dispirited.”
She says a lot of energy has been spent on attempting to change the needs of women employees, rather than solving inherent problems in the industry. For example, she says, better mentoring, better sponsorship, better coaching — these have been thorny, ongoing issues, and the problem is structural. One key issue is the value placed on 24/7 availability, which women with children are less able to provide.
“The things that came out during today’s conversation will help move the needle,” Rhode says. “But none of them were family balanced, which we know is one of the major factors that affects women’s misrepresentation in law firms.”
FAMILY AND GENDER ROLES ARE A KEY ISSUE
Other experts who spoke after the hackathon event also noted that none of the teams addressed work-life balance issues in their proposed ideas. Bassli from Microsoft said that perhaps this is because the issue is bigger than law firm culture.
Many men who work in the industry are already offered paternity leave, she says. “But they aren’t taking the time. They aren’t acting as caregivers. That is an inherent societal issue.”
Rhode agrees, and adds that there is also research that shows men who do take equal time off to raise families are punished more for it in the work place than women are.
“What we need to do to fix that problem is not rocket science,” Rhode says. “But we do need to get more buy-in from the profession if we want to make serious headway, or I’m afraid we’ll be having these hackathons again and again.”
Rhode suggests that perhaps people are looking for ideas that will have a short-term impact on women in law, because changing the culture of law firms is too big a challenge. Ulrich Stacy agrees, but says we should focus on what can get done instead of being disappointed about failures.
“You know what, there were nine really amazing solutions (at the June 24 event),” she says. “Let’s try that. And if it doesn’t work, let’s try something else.”