Men Are Responsible for Fostering Gender Inclusion

May 27, 2024

This should not be a radical statement, but in many corners of the legal industry, it still is.

It seems obvious that women and men should share responsibility for creating more inclusive workplaces. Yet most gender-inclusion programs still focus on how women should navigate the workplace differently to overcome obstacles they face due to sexism.

Gender bias may be tougher to overcome in the legal profession than in other industries. The law firm model “views women as inherently second-class,” industry influencer Jordan Furlong recently said on social media.

“Law firms were built by and for men, and they reflect male priorities and attitudes: Work is the highest value; hours exist to be billed; there are no outside demands on my time; money and status are the metrics that matter,” Furlong posted.

If you are a man who is ready to do your part, here are three things you can do today, suggested by recent Harvard Business Review and Spin Sucks, to be a catalyst for change:

  1. Support but don’t solve. Lawyers are incentivized to be the first and the loudest when it comes to solving problems, but this instinct can exacerbate gender bias. Instead of speaking first to offer a solution, genuinely listen during professional conversations with women. We’ve emphasized the importance of effective listening before and it may seem simplistic, but it’s fundamental to building trust and solid relationships as well as making sure all voices on the legal team are heard.
  2. Rethink how your firm handles industry awards. Male leaders sometimes approach the task of selecting attorneys to nominate for industry awards by tossing out a list of women’s names — quickly checking it off their to-do list and getting credit for championing diversity. But if these awards aren’t strategically important for business development, or the nominee does not have a good chance of winning, the leader’s “support” has been little more than window dressing. Firms can more effectively sponsor women lawyers by taking the time to understand their practice areas and priorities, and seeking out awards they are well positioned to win.
  3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Research shows that men who advocate for women may experience backlash effects of “stigma-by-association” — being “perceived as being similar to women by advocating for them,” which can feel like a demotion in status. As a man, you may face criticism from partners or even female colleagues when you amplify women’s voices in meetings or turn down a speaking engagement due to a gender imbalance on the panel. While this is unpleasant, understand and expect that this is part of the process anytime you question the status quo. Remember that the current and future women in your firm — and the firm’s clients, who regularly seek confirmation that you are making progress on equity — are counting on you to use your power and influence to improve women’s access to opportunities.