Institute for Gender Equality to kick off this fall By Drew Hardman The Allegheny County Bar Association is set to kick off the Institute for Gender Equality this fall with interactive programs for decision-makers, practitioners, and law students designed to address issues facing female attorneys. The Institute for Gender Equality is the first of its kind among bar associations, placing the ACBA at the forefront for gender equality in the law profession. "This is very, very progressive for a bar association," ACBA Gender Equality Coordinator Linda Hernandez said. "There has been enormous support to develop real solutions for the people that face these issues every day. It says a lot about the integrity of the people involved and the organization." In response to the results of a 2005 membership survey, the ACBA hired Hernandez in 2007 to take on the role of Gender Equality Coordinator-another first among bar associations. "The hiring of the first bar association Gender Equality Coordinator and the creation of the Institute for Gender Equality are both consistent with the ACBA's long-standing leadership in our profession and a significant reflection of the bar association's commitment to achieving true equality and inclusiveness in our profession," ACBA President Kim Brown added. Proposed by the ACBA Gender Equality Task Force in 2008, the Institute for Gender Equality was part of a plan of attack to address ongoing gender bias issues. A 2005 membership survey-commissioned by the Gender Bias Subcommittee-showed that "virtually no progress in the advancement of women had been made" for a period of 15 years, according to Brown. The results resembled those of a similar survey conducted in 1990. "Generally, it pointed out that there continued to be a gender wage gap, there continued to be a problem of retention of women staying in the profession, and there was a higher level of dissatisfaction with the profession among women than men," Hernandez noted. ACBA Executive Director David Blaner said the survey results were consistent with similar studies across the country. "What we found is that there were a number of national surveys conducted, and our results mirrored those of other groups," Blaner said. After evaluating the survey results, the Gender Equality Task Force, consisting of "leaders from all levels of the profession," identified the following six key issues facing female attorneys: professional development, leadership and growth; job advancement, satisfaction, and retention; compensation; work-life balance; perceptions and bias; cultural competency. "That's what the task force gleaned from the survey results as the six areas we needed to concentrate on," Hernandez said. Intent on action, the task force recommended launching the Institute for Gender Equality, designed to "enhance the presence of women in leadership positions in Allegheny County, eliminate the gender wage gap, increase professional satisfaction, and expand the avenues through which female members of the bar can build successful careers," Brown noted. The pilot program will begin this fall with an initial kick-off event to introduce the Institute for Gender Equality and its proposed programming to ACBA members. The event will feature a keynote speaker and is open to all ACBA members on a first-come, first-served basis. Following the kick-off event, the Institute for Gender Equality will offer a series of fee-based, interactive modules promoting "equality for women in the legal profession of Allegheny County," according to the ACBA's proposal. "We felt that we needed module-like sessions that addressed the need to have a dialogue and not just a presentation," Hernandez said. The seminars will last between two and four hours and may offer CLE credit for participants in three categories, including decision-makers, practitioners, and law students. "The programs will be directed toward three important groups who have the ability to effectuate change in the profession," Brown said. Hernandez reported that class size for the modules will be limited to 20 participants, allowing "active learning and time to practice what you're learning." Faculty for the sessions will include ACBA members, as well as local and national experts specializing in gender equality. Tailored to "managing partners or others who can incubate change in their respective work environments," the decision-maker series will begin with a module on conscious decision-making and how it affects the bottom line. The session is designed to eliminate bias in decision-making and increase retention with more equitable policies, while reviewing evaluation and transparency techniques. Other module topics include mentoring alternatives and analysis and implementation of the corporate strategic plan. First-year programming for the practitioner series includes modules on professional strategic planning, which will identify professional goals and career hurdles. Other modules will review the implementation of strategic plans at work, as well as work/life integration, covering self care, care of others, burnout, and maternity and paternity issues. Finally, the law student series-intended for students at both the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and the Duquesne University School of Law-offers modules on career coaching, best-fit opportunities, and negotiation. According to Blaner, the Institute for Gender Equality will be operated under the ACBA, with funding through June 30, 2010. His goal is to offer modules on a monthly basis, adjusting programming based on member feedback. "As with anything new, we may find that we will have to modify our concepts once we receive feedback from our members-that's part of the learning curve," Blaner noted. "This is something that has never been attempted before, so there is a little bit of apprehension because you're trying things that you don't know will have positive results, but the alternative is unacceptable." He understands that the success of the Institute for Gender Equality depends on the reaction throughout the legal community. "The real key part of what we're doing is the seminars and seeing the impact that they have," he said. "I am confident that participation by our members in the programs will result in real change in the systematic challenges and barriers to women's advancement in our profession," Brown added. n