Sexism, Women's Issues

Biglaw Partner Declares Discrimination Over, Forgets Those Pesky Lawsuits

Women have made great strides in the workplace over the last several decades. But one doesn’t have to look much further than these pages to see that despite all the progress, significant hurdles remain. Maybe those hurdles could be overcome if women would just listen to their firm Women’s Committees.

Or maybe women have it better off than we think. A major newspaper assembled a crack team of men and asked them if women still face discrimination in the workplace.

According to a Biglaw managing partner, women have no problems in the workplace anymore.

Maybe he forgot about those pesky sex discrimination suits his firm got slapped with….

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe ran a story about a pair of roundtable discussions they hosted asking a number of executives about the glass ceiling. Instead of putting all these executives together where they could share ideas and argue out any disagreements, the Globe segregated the men from the women.

If the Globe thought this experiment would reveal that male executives are completely oblivious — if not openly hostile — to the challenges faced by women, well, they were right.

R. Robert Popeo, the chairman of Mintz Levin, joined the talk and didn’t think the broads down at the office have much to worry about. Enjoy the mansplaining:

If I had to give any advice to women across the board, [it would be] do not take the role of a victim because you’re not a victim. These organizations that seek to jam a quota in do a disservice to these women, because these women rise on the basis of excellence, not quotas. In my organization over the past 20 years, the top four producing sections of the law firm were run by women. They weren’t there because they were women. They were there because they were talented.

“Just keep your mouth shut, honey. I know that 50 percent of the population makes up merely 13 percent of partnerships, but I know four of them so everything must be fine.” This is truly the “I have black friends” of sex discrimination.

For the flipside of the question, the Globe’s gathering of women included Harvard Law professor Judge Nancy Gertner, formerly of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

The question is whether the measure is what it had been 40 years ago. If that’s the measure, then certainly we are fabulous. No question about it. If the measure is the number of qualified women in the pool, that’s a different measure. I love Ruth Ginsburg’s comment about the Supreme Court. Isn’t it wonderful that there are now three women on the Supreme Court? No, she said, there should be half, and there’s no question that should mirror society. So, yes, things are better, there are high-profile women in some positions, but the numbers suggest a glass ceiling. The question is why.

That seems like a reasonable position: progress is being made, but we owe it to ourselves to keep thinking hard about women in the workplace when the numbers clearly reflect discriminatory outcomes.

Popeo has no time for your “thinking” and “numbers.” He has anecdotes!

When asked if the networking process is stacked in favor of men:

No. I think that traditionally men have done it, and it’s a new experience for women now. You could look to Karen Kaplan, who is the CEO of Hill Holliday, or Anne Finucane at Bank of America. They’ve all been out there; they’ve all worked the system. There’s a truism here. Unless you make the rules, you better learn the rules of the game and be good at them. You may not like them, but those are the rules of the game and that’s your route to success.

Can’t argue with that logic — short-term success requires adapting to prevailing conditions — but where the other panelists are addressing every question by asking hard questions about leveling the playing field for up-and-coming women in the workplace (one male executive talked about putting senior leadership through unconscious bias training to avoid misevaluating employees), Popeo aggressively pushes the “move along, nothing to see here” message. It shouldn’t surprise you to know he sarcastically dismisses the very concept of an old boys’ club.

Perhaps Popeo’s bitterness has a little to do with the sex discrimination headaches Mintz Levin has suffered over the last several years:

The firm has been sued by female associates in two well-publicized cases for sexual discrimination. (In one case, Dawn Gallina won $520,000 on her retaliation claim; she also won her appeal for punitive damages; the case settled in 2005.)

Perhaps the experience scarred Popeo.

Look, let’s put aside whether or not Mintz Levin felt the firm was wrongly accused. Let’s even put aside whether or not Popeo is really as callously oblivious to discrimination as his quotes suggest. Someone at a firm that attracts costly sex discrimination suits should be tasked with keeping Popeo out of situations where he makes firm leadership sound like an extra from Mad Men.

Roundtable: Glass ceilings and getting ahead [Boston Globe]
Sued for Sexual Harassment, Yet Lauded for Being Family-Friendly [The Careerist]

Earlier: Which Biglaw Office Has Promoted Only One Woman to Partner in 25 Years?
Biglaw Memo From Top Firm Advises That Women ‘Don’t Giggle,’ Don’t ‘Show Cleavage’

(hidden for your protection)

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