Empower UH brought together fraud investigator Rosemary Moll and attorney Joanne Ericksen on Wednesday to discuss the struggles women experience in the legal industry and how the relationship between women can increase the gender inequality.
Empower UH is a student-run organization that focuses on the stigmas of gender roles in the workplace.
“We invite exceptional women from the Houston area to come and speak about their careers and any struggles they have faced along the way,” said biology and biotechnology junior Sara Elchenabi, co-president of Empower UH. “We hope that our discussions with these speakers and the advice they have to offer will encourage our members to follow their example and take the initiative in their lives so that they can also become leaders in whatever fields they choose.”
According to the American Bar Association, in 2013 women represented only 33.3 percent of the legal profession. The gender inequality can be heavily seen in the difference between women who are associates in a law firm, 45 percent, and the 20 percent of partners who are women.
“People tend to like to work with who they’re comfortable with, so if a large majority in the firm is men, it is the men who will be on the road to partnership, not the women,” Ericksen said. “I’ve missed opportunities simply because I was female, because the partners or their wives weren’t comfortable with my gender.”
While Moll advises to “check some of your sensitivity at the door” to deal with some of the machismo, she believes that women don’t have to behave like men to get ahead.
“In any male-dominant industry, you are going to hear crude language and off-colored jokes, but don’t think you have to sacrifice your femininity to have a job like this,” Moll said. “You can wear skirts; you can carry pink bags. You don’t have to be one of the guys.”
Women are constantly seen as not able to perform on par with their male counterparts. At first, Ericksen said she was angered by this pattern, but she has come to believe that being underestimated is one her greatest weapons.
“It’s not my fault that I’m female. It’s not my fault that I’m attractive,” Ericksen said. “If you think I am dumb because I am cute, well, when your liver is on the floor quivering because I just gutted you in court, you may begin to think another thing.”
While Ericksen has been able to take what others considered a weakness and turn it into an advantage, gender inequality remains a large problem for women. In order to address and change this issue, one has to begin at the source.
“We can’t put all the blame on men,” Moll said. “The nastiest being on the planet is a middle school girl; a lot of girls never get past that. If women are treating each other badly, how can we expect men to treat us equally?”
Ericksen has had false rumors spread stating that she got a big case or promotion only because she slept with the client. The rumors were started by a female associate.
“Women will throw you under the bus faster than a man, and that is something that we have to change that is within our control,” Ericksen said. “We have to pull each other up instead of pushing each other down.”
While Elchehabi said she agrees that women have to do their part, she believes both genders have to make an effort to see change.
“Men are just as important as women, and the only way to ensure that we have the best society possible is if both genders work together to make equality a priority,” Elchehabi said.
“When both genders participate in discussions, we’ll be able to see both sides of the issues and hopefully find solutions that remove the gender-specific stresses and roles that have been placed on us.”