Hon. Helaine L. Berger, (Ret), Hon. Lisa R. Curcio, (Ret.), Hon. Kay M. Hanlon, (Ret.) and Hon. Brigid M. McGrath, (Ret.), senior mediators and arbitrators at ADR Systems, hosted the Women’s Initiative Committee’s virtual Spring CLE event, “Bias in the Legal Profession,” on May 13th. The event was keynoted by renowned women’s advancement advocate Andrea S. Kramer, Esq., partner at McDermott Will & Emery and co-author of Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work and It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace: Women’s Conflict at Work and the Bias that Built It. Attendees listened to presentations and participated in small group discussions to learn how to detect and overcome bias in the workplace.
There are three types of bias, according to Ms. Kramer: affinity (people are more comfortable with others like themselves), in-group/outgroup (if not part of the in-group, people will feel excluded) and gender (where people assume that men do it better).
“All bias, including gender bias, can impede women’s ability to advance in the workplace. Stereotypical notions that women must be kind, modest and gentle while men are ambitious, competitive and qualified to lead can exacerbate this problem and undermine women’s opportunities to be seen as equally viable candidates for advancement, promotion and leadership,” said Ms. Kramer during her presentation.
Ms. Kramer explained that women can actively counter bias and stereotypes by learning communication techniques that can empower them in the workplace. Some of her recommendations include the following:
- Develop a growth mindset and cultivate grit, believing in yourself to actively address what is disagreeable
- Avoid diminishing your contributions and accomplishments; men will not
- Speak so you are heard and refrain from apologizing unnecessarily, reducing your power
- Be willing to discuss difficult issues like workplace bias with colleagues because these conversations can begin to break down harmful behavior
- Develop a coping sense of humor and learn how to use it
ADR Systems’ senior mediators and arbitrators expanded upon Ms. Kramer’s presentation and recommendations during the breakout sessions with attendees and led small group discussions using several different bias-related scenarios prepared by Ms. Kramer.
Many of the participants shared useful ideas. One participant in Judge Hanlon’s breakout session explained that in monthly meetings with her supervisor, she was asked to state one great thing that she accomplished that month. Another recommended that they save emails with affirmations for annual reviews. Over time, these practices can help build your confidence and build up a record of noteworthy achievements.
During her breakout session, Judge Berger advised attendees to create their own affinity groups with other professional women to socialize with and support one another’s goals. A participant also suggested that women find a mentor outside of their workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic will hinder group activities for the time being, but videoconferences and phone calls can still build relationships.
In her breakout group, Judge McGrath shared a story about why women should take time to socialize at work. She noted that men tend to arrive at meetings early and remain after the meeting to socialize. Judge McGrath suggested that women should follow suit, as it affords them the opportunity to be seen as part of the team.
As with all things this past year, the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting how women work, and bias and stereotypes may be contributing to profound changes for professional women. Strained by demands at work, commitments to family and a reduction in work-life balance, one in four women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers versus one in five men – and especially working mothers of young children, women in senior roles and women of color, according to a McKinsey & Company report.
“Remote work during the pandemic makes it difficult to collaborate and gives women less opportunity to be ‘seen’ in their firms. There are fewer opportunities for mentorship from partners now,” said Judge Curcio in her breakout group focused on the effect of the pandemic on women lawyers. “Grit, assertiveness, and support from other professional women are now more important to our collective careers than ever. It all starts with a conversation. Women empowering women is imperative to deconstructing biases and stereotypes.”
Andrea S. Kramer, Esq. is a partner at McDermott, Will & Emery, where she heads its financial products, trading, and derivatives group. The National Law Journal has named her one of the most influential women lawyers in America. She is the author of two award winning books that help women navigate gender biased workplaces: Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work and It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace: Women’s Conflict at Work and the Bias that Built It.
Hon. Helaine L. Berger, (Ret.) is an experienced civil litigator who tried cases in Criminal, Chancery, Law and Domestic Relations before serving as a judge in Cook County’s Domestic Relations Division for 19 years. Judge Berger has been active in the legal community, including Chair of the CBA’s Fee Committee and President of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois. She is now a senior mediator and arbitrator at ADR Systems where she concentrates in family law. Judge Berger is flexible and creative in her approach to mediation and has helped ADR Systems launch an innovative fast track mediation program for family law cases.
Hon. Lisa R. Curcio, (Ret.) brings an abundance of real-world experience — real estate, business and banking — to her mediation and arbitration practice. Of over 15 years on the bench, she spent 11 in the Chancery Division where she presided over claims for mechanics liens and all aspects of claims under construction contracts. Before she went on the bench, Judge Curcio represented parties in medical malpractice, premises and product liability and other personal injury matters. Judge Curcio is regarded as an energetic and pragmatic neutral who helps parties construct suitable solutions to their disputes.
Hon. Kay M. Hanlon, (Ret.) has expertise in resolving personal injury actions such as medical malpractice, mass torts and product liability, as well as commercial actions such as legal malpractice, eminent domain and subrogation. Counsel who appeared before Judge Hanlon found her to be perpetually prepared and ready to listen attentively. Her open and friendly demeanor is known throughout the legal community. Her personality is tailor-made for her work as a mediator and arbitrator.
Hon. Brigid M. McGrath, (Ret.) has handled and complex commercial and personal injury case types throughout her 34-year legal and judicial career, including professional malpractice, medical malpractice, insurance coverage and product liability matters. As a senior mediator and arbitrator, she is skilled at diffusing conflict and identifying root causes of disputes. Counsel know Judge McGrath will prepare thoroughly for every case and work diligently toward resolution.
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