ACBA to launch Institute for Gender Equality n Gender Equality Task Force releases report and recommendations By Tracy Carbasho Citing that the time for just talking about gender equality is past and the emphasis for going forward must be a collaborative effort, the Gender Equality Task Force has recommended the creation of the Allegheny County Bar Association's Institute for Gender Equality. The Institute, which will be the first of its kind among bar associations, was approved by the Board of Governors earlier this month. It was one of several suggestions outlined in the Task Force's report and recommendations released on June 16. "The exodus of women from the practice of law must be stopped," said U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan. "In order to do this, all lawyers must be educated from the managing partners down to the law students. Once the problem is recognized, action can be taken to at least slow the leaky pipeline of women leaving firms in particular and the practice in general." The Institute, which is expected to open in the first quarter of 2009, will offer educational seminars covering broad themes in the areas of professional development, leadership, and growth; job advancement; satisfaction and retention; compensation; work-life balance; perceptions and bias; and cultural competency. A systematic approach will be used to quantify results without waiting to do another survey. The Institute will be open to all ACBA members. "In recommending the Institute, the ACBA will be a national leader on this issue," said Lenihan. "The implementation of the Institute will achieve the goal of retaining women in the profession and ensuring they are treated on an equal basis. I would like the focus to be on moving forward in a positive direction with the goal of making the Allegheny County Bar Association the most equal and inclusive in the country." Lenihan and Gary Hunt, managing shareholder of Tucker Arensberg, co-chair the ACBA's Gender Equality Task Force. Members of the Task Force have been meeting on a regular basis with focus groups to address the results of a survey commissioned by the Gender Bias Subcommittee of the ACBA's Women in the Law Division in 2005. The 2005 survey, intended to determine how the role of women in the legal profession had changed since the last survey was done in 1990, produced surprising results. Approximately 60 percent of the women who responded believed their professional career development had been impacted to some extent by discriminatory practices. The findings also showed that 20 percent of men earn more than $250,000 per year, while only five percent of women are in this income bracket. Women earning $300,000 or more per year are working an average of 10 hours more per week than men taking home the same amount of money. The inequities are especially surprising since nearly 50 percent of law school graduates over the past 20 years have been women. "I was a bit surprised that there are similar gender equality issues in New York and Washington, D.C., given that those areas are viewed as more progressive," said Lenihan. "Al-though those areas have developed best practices to address the problem, no bar association in the country has recommended or intends to launch anything as progressive and comprehensive as the Institute." Lenihan hopes as many people as possible will read the report, which is available from the ACBA, and use it as a tool to improve their personal employment situation or the employment situation at their firms and legal departments. Hunt said the survey findings made it clear that there are gender-based influences that impact the career path of women. He stressed that the legal profession has an obligation to ensure that men and women have a level playing field and a free choice of career options. "The issuance of the report represents only the beginning of the ACBA's efforts to educate the profession regarding this issue," said Hunt. "The real work is just beginning. Every constituency in the legal community must be part of that effort. Every circumstance is different and some of the causes for those differences are beyond the control of the legal profession. "However, some of the causes are within our control. If we are deliberate about the process and are conscious about our decision-making and the choices we offer to men and women in the legal profession, we can have a real impact on the issue," he added. "Our goal should be to allow all lawyers, men and women, to have the same choices and opportunities. If we do that, we will have fulfilled our responsibility as a profession. The Institute will be the vehicle for keeping this issue at the forefront of our collective consciousness." The mission statement calls for the Institute to "enhance the presence of women in leadership positions in Allegheny County, eliminate the gender wage gap, and expand the avenues through which female lawyers can build successful careers. Managers, decision-makers, associates at all levels, government and non-profit lawyers, and law students will participate in programs designed to illuminate themes, facilitate conversations, and identify options for creating pathways for success for women and all talented lawyers." ACBA President Ken Gormley said he expects the Institute to serve as a model for other bar associations across the country. "No one will sit back and wait for this thing to happen. We will act immediately to plan the steps necessary to get the Institute running," said Gormley. "The report from the task force is the capstone of our efforts over the last few years to solidify our commitment to promoting gender and racial equality. "We hired a diversity coordinator and a gender equality coordinator. We have also established new committees, including the Asian Attorney Committee and the Hispanic Attorneys Committee, and we've solidified our ties with the Homer S. Brown Law Association," added Gormley. "Now, we are completing the picture by taking the findings of the survey and trying to make use of them in a positive fashion to address these significant issues." Gormley said he was startled to realize that so little had changed during the 15 years that lapsed between the time the two surveys were conducted. Although the survey results were disappointing, there is a silver lining because attorneys in Allegheny County are taking the issue seriously and working to erase barriers based on gender. "We didn't fully understand the details of how and why gender inequality is occurring until we started studying this big problem," said Gormley. "Women have a harder time getting the rainmaking positions and that impacts their ability to move up in law firms. Likewise, the lack of mentoring for women has played a role in preventing upward movement." Gormley said hiring Linda Varrenti Hernandez as the gender equality coordinator in 2007 was a major step towards addressing this issue and Hernandez has done a remarkable job. "There is an enormous amount of support from the ACBA and the legal community in western Pennsylvania to begin educating all participants in areas that will most effectively impact a positive change for women in the legal profession," said Hernandez. "This will occur through the Institute in many ways, including classes and mobile learning opportunities that will be made available to legal employers. The Institute will provide quantifiable feedback as to the effectiveness of the programs. "It is important to recognize that the emphasis on gender issues by the bar is not an 'of-the-moment' proposition, but one that will remain a priority until the benchmarks uncovered by the survey undergo a significant, positive change," she added. "Female lawyers have greatly affected the legal profession in many positive ways... the least of which is by their sheer numbers over the past 40 years. These women have brought with them a strong desire to balance a successful career and other demands they may have. As such, they are creating an atmosphere more 'centered' for all lawyers." Hernandez said the next step will be developing a curriculum and forming a board of directors for the Institute. For the time being, she will serve as director. In addition to the recommendation about creating the Institute, the report includes a Best Practices section that offers a plethora of valuable and specific suggestions that can be immediately implemented. The recommendations provide guidance for any employer seeking direction regarding gender equality. The Best Practices are divided into nine categories with suggestions in the areas of senior management commitment; organizational accountability; development of women as leaders; development of female attorneys; fair representation; career advancement; workplace flexibility; family issues; and mentoring. The following are some of the recommendations from the Subcommittees:  development of mentoring systems  creation of an unbiased compensation system  increased business development training  development of programs to address negotiation skills  development of best practices regarding work-life balance  focus on decreasing the number of female attorneys leaving the profession. "It is my passion to see female lawyers satisfied and excited about what they do every day and I believe that we can work together to assure a better environment for both men and women," said Hernandez. "Changes occur every moment. With a little prodding from us, the synergy of the group will offer a dynamic for good that we can't even imagine today." n