I am a white male. I am a middle-aged lawyer who has been director of a state judicial ethics agency for many years. I hire and supervise staff, teach law students, appear regularly on legal education panels, and interact with all facets of the legal profession.
I am an ally. I believe women’s rights are human rights. And I will fight for those rights. I choose to be associated, I choose to assist, I choose to listen and learn, I choose to bring more than just words to the table. I choose to bring actions.
But, what can I really do? How can I turn being philosophically in agreement into some sort of action that is helpful? I always nodded in agreement when I listened to others discuss the difficulties women faced in the legal workplace. Surely, I could do more than just be a “good guy” and agree in principle. I knew I did not want to act like I fully understood what female lawyers and judges have had to face just to be in the profession.
Like many men, I was unaware of some problems. I helped as much as I knew how, but certainly missed opportunities for positive change that I just never noticed. As years have gone by, I have had the time to reflect. I have listened and learned from my female colleagues. I have witnessed misogyny and inequality in forums that are supposed to be the hallmarks of respect and fairness. These incidents occurred in the past 10 years.
Then in the wake of the #MeToo movement, I was asked to present about sexual misconduct in the judicial workplace. As a judicial conduct commission attorney, I had worked on three noteworthy cases where judges had been removed from office because of sexual harassment or misconduct. The judicial workplace can be a very secretive environment. That has afforded nefarious judges the opportunity to hide sexual misconduct. The cases out of Arkansas shined a light into some of the worst examples of judicial behavior with staff and defendants.
All three of the judges we confronted were permanently banned from the bench. I was asked to join a panel of distinguished attorneys and present on the subject. It is a strange thing to be the only man in a conference room full of women. The panel I was speaking on that day was entitled #WeToo, and it was focused on sexual harassment and misconduct in the judicial and legal workplace. The panel was part of the keynote message for the National Association of Women Judges 2018 annual meeting in conjunction with the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues.
I have heard men speak out about being afraid to join the discussion on gender equality. They worry that they will “say something wrong” or somehow not be welcomed. The opposite is true. Not only have I been welcomed, but I have also been able to learn how to identify insidious and harmful actions towards women easier than I did before. Since then, I have worked on a gender equality policy paper, spoken on panels and published articles in my role as an ally.
Becoming an ally is simple. Start by standing up for equality. Allied men should make it obvious that we are on the side of equal rights for women. Just openly identifying as a supporter can have an effect. As Robert F. Kennedy stated, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope…”
Men in the legal profession who interact, hire, work for, teach with, appear in front of and otherwise communicate with women can make an impact in everyday decisions.
Remember these simple principles:
Equality is a cornerstone principle for a free society. Gender equality among judges and lawyers is necessary to foster credibility and gain the confidence of the public.
Inclusion of women as speakers, teachers, in leadership roles, and on decision making bodies should be a top priority. The lack of inclusion hurts the legal profession and sends a terrible message to our female colleagues.
Inclusion requires knowledge and sensitivity. It is the responsibility of the old power structure to listen and care about the experience of women in the legal workplace. Also, remember that the experience of women of color may differ from the experiences of women in general.
Then, male allies must take their beliefs and put them into action. Need ideas? Here are a few things we can do that promote gender equality:
Choose to be on teaching panels that include female co-panelists. When asked to speak, find out about the gender diversity of the program before you accept.
Openly request and support female attorneys for commission appointments, accolades, bar association leadership positions and teaching opportunities.
Invite female law students, clerks, and young attorneys into the decision-making room. It is a place where they have been historically excluded. Allow them to see and hear the process as they effectively prepare for greater leadership roles.
Speak up on social media. For example, post and promote International Women’s Day. Wear a yellow rose on Women’s Equality Day (read the story of Rep. Harry T. Burn from Tennessee). Realize that symbolic speech matters. Use all platforms to identify yourself with the struggle for equality.
Champion women for appointments and as candidates for election to the bench. It is important to all of us to have broader representation in our courts. Women of color need white male and white female champions. They have faced greater gaps in achieving these opportunities.
Find ways to address the unique issues that women of color have faced trying to advance in law firms and the bench. Read updated studies such as Left Out and Left Behind – The Hurdles, Hassles, and Heartaches of Achieving Long-Term Legal Careers for Women of Color.
The culture of the profession held back women of color in ways that other women have not experienced. As Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby said, “[d]iversity of the bench means that there is a collaboration of minds with different voices, different perspectives, different experiences working together to solve problems.” Without diversity, a single point of view will prevail. And with merely a single way of thinking, inevitably, too much will be missed.
There are many other examples. Let’s agree to add to this list.
I did not get a degree in gender studies. I do not understand the depth of difficulty that women face in my own profession. But I am working to make it better. I help make room for women in the workplace. I give them opportunities to get experience. I get out of their way when I am not needed. I am grateful to be included in the work to be done.
I am an ally.
 Robert F. Kennedy, Speech, South Africa University of Cape Town on June 6, 1966.  Destiny Peery, Paulette Brown and Eileen Letts, Left Out and Left Behind – The Hurdles, Hassles, and Heartaches of Achieving Long-Term Legal Careers for Women of Color (2020), American Bar Association.  Id.  Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals, 2016, Jane Cleo Marshall Lecture, University of Michigan School of Law (Nov. 4, 2016).