DAYL President’s Message

A perspective on the challenges of being a female attorney in 2024 and some ways you can be her ally. 

by Haleigh Jones
March 2024

An attorney’s first deposition is not something she forgets. When she walks into the deposition, she has spent days preparing and reviewing documents to understand the witness’s scope of knowledge and the facts that her client is counting on her to extract—no small undertaking. A lot of people have placed a lot of trust in her for her to arrive at that moment. She’s tired and nervous, and above all, she doesn’t want to disappoint those people who have counted on her. Imagine the impact it has when the first words out of anyone’s mouth upon her arrival at the deposition are an assumption that she is not an attorney simply because she is a woman. I have experienced this 24 times. While these experiences used to devastate me, I now choose to use misogyny as my superpower in those moments. If my adversary begins a proceeding with an assumption that I am not an attorney because I am a woman, he has wildly underestimated my ability and preparation. I feel sorry for his client, to whom he has done a disservice.

Don’t get me wrong—I know that many of the men who have asked me this question are not malicious. The problem, rather, is that they don’t realize its impact. But the subtle ways in which women are slighted in the workplace affects them. According to USA Today, 78% of women say they are undermined at work by male colleagues in response to a survey conducted in fall of 2023.[1] Those slights resulted in low morale, lower productivity, lower problem solving, higher rates of depression, anxiety and anger and depressed psychological well-being.[2] The bottom line: undermining women in the workplace negatively affects your institution’s bottom-line by suppressing the productivity of half of your work force.

So, this year, for Women’s History Month, I am using my platform as DAYL’s President to humbly ask you to think meaningfully about the microaggressions that female attorneys encounter daily. Below are some examples:

  • Interrupting female colleagues while they are speaking
  • Taking credit for a female colleague’s work
  • Commenting that hiring authorities “really wanted a woman” in a particular role occupied by a female colleague
  • Commenting on a female colleague’s appearance in any way that connects that appearance to her work or her value—either positively or negatively
  • Expecting female colleagues to clean shared workspaces after a meeting or event
  • Suggesting that a female colleague should “smile more”
  • Referring to a female colleague as “bossy” or “aggressive” for behavior for which her male counterpart is rewarded
  • Suggesting that maternity leave is a vacation
  • Talking down to female colleagues as if they do not understand a fact, information, or a conversation
  • Physical posturing or gesturing by a man toward a woman who is smaller in stature than her male counterpart
  • Scheduling meetings at times that a female colleague has indicated are a challenge for her schedule due to family obligations; and
  • Asking a female colleague if her husband approves of her career goals

These are only a few examples of the put-downs female attorneys encounter regularly, despite their many contributions to our bar, our clients, and our community.

Now, for the good news—if you’re reading this article, it’s probably because you care about making your workplace a more equitable, welcoming, and fair place for your female colleagues. Here are some ways you can do so:

  • Ask your female colleagues with children when they can meet before setting a meeting
  • Schedule client and business development outings that involve activities other than golf
  • Listen to your female colleagues and ensure they are done speaking before you respond
  • Validate your female colleagues’ feelings and endeavor to understand those feelings
  • Give your female colleagues credit where they have earned it, particularly with clients
  • Suggest to clients that female attorneys should have speaking roles at events important to the handling of a matter
  • Introduce your female colleagues to clients by their title; i.e. “my partner, Haleigh” as opposed to just “Haleigh”
  • Make sure your female colleagues have a seat at the table (in the conference room or at counsel table), and not one at the end of the table, but one where the action is happening
  • Help your female colleagues plan for their maternity leave and their return from leave; share their work, and then pass it back to them when they’re ready

If the men in our professional lives committed to doing half of these things, our profession would be markedly different.

I believe that all of us, including women, are in the driver’s seat of our careers. But driving to success is a lot easier when the men in our lives pave the way, rather than throwing up unnecessary obstacles. The allyship of men helps to proactively level the playing field for women and diffuse historical notions of male privilege. So, as we leave Women’s History Month, I challenge everyone (women included) to think critically about microaggressions the women in your life encounter in the workplace and create and implement strategies to reduce those obstacles. Doing so will only benefit the clients and institutions we serve, who are counting on us to work together.

Lastly, I owe a heartfelt thank you to the men who have made my trip to partnership and DAYL Presidency a smoother one: Lance Caughfield, Doug Lang, and Trey Crawford (among many others).  Nothing gives me more hope for the women of our profession than knowing you all are out there, just being yourselves. Keep being allies in big and small ways—it matters.

Sincerely,

Haleigh

[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2023/10/05/microaggressions-women-at-work-new-study/71005816007/

[2] Id.