Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Future of Women and Power, Fame, and Money

I read a lot of statements about how women fare in the business world.  Women represent only 20 of 100 United States Senators.  Some laud this accomplishment, there were much fewer before.  Women have only had the power to vote in this country for 90 years, some 55 years after formerly-enslaved men were given the right to vote. Women are no longer considered chattel nor are their property rights assumed by their husbands upon marriage.   Women earn $76 for every $100 a man earns.

What do we, as women, have as our power, fame, and wealth goals?  Well, first of all, 52% of the country are women, over 150 million people.  Women, just as men, don't have to have coordinated goals.  So, the issue becomes, to some, how are the women going to compete with the men.

I believe that some of the recent books on women in the workplace, such as "Lean In" by Scheryl Sandberg can be very helpful for those who want to be CEOs and corporate giants.  However, I wonder how many women have that desire.  Women should be paid at least as well as men, and should have the wherewithal to insist on it.  If CEO is your goal, you must go for it.

However, there are many of us who do not seek this type of work.  I am reading Susan Cain's "Quiet" which addresses the dilemmas of introverts in an extrovert-centric world.  It's clear to me, among all people in business and work, there is no one size fits all.

The only thing I want to add is that in trial lawyer, I have noticed that some women are less bold and aggressive in pursuing trials as men.  Women are traditionally not pushed to take risked on the scale of some male lawyers.  If women want to go to trial, they must gear up and take those risks.  But how a woman acts in trial can be entirely different than a man.

In life, we are all bettered if we identify who we are, what we believe in, how we want to accomplish our goals and then do it our way.  I am a woman and very happy about evolving with two x chromosomes.  I do not want to be a man.  I do not want to act mannish.  I want to understand myself, what I do and be a lawyer my way.  I can cross-examine someone completely, without being rude.  You don't have to be a bully to win.  I fight bullies, I don't want to be one.  I can act ways in which I am proud.  I do not need to feel that I compromise my personal belief in treating others with respect in order to win for my clients.

I don't want to step on the corporate ladder.  i don't want a job where others can criticize my performance.  I want to be my own boss.  I trust myself enough to take responsibility for my own actions and don't need some boss telling me what to do.  Perhaps there are other women, and men, out there who have no desire to head a corporation, who don't want to climb the ladder, for whom the thought of campaigning for political office seems unpleasant and insincere.  We can make our own way, without being judged by groupthink.  Let all you male and female extroverted over-achievers out their grab the "power" and "fame," men and women alike.  Now women who wants these roles need to get out there and work hard.

But for those of us who want to be society, there is more than one way to skin a cat (as a vegetarian, I hate that phrase).  Perhaps what I mean is "All roads lead to Rome."  Women need to do what feels comfortable.  We need to be ourselves.

I am very proud of my law firm and my partners.  We are three women and we try our cases.  Trials are scary, but we do it anyway.  I am proud of my partners.  We try to help our clients and we want to make the world a better case, one case at a time.

I stated that I am not looking for fame and power. I did not mention money.  Women are just as smart, creative, and determined as men.  Women should be paid as much.  I did some checking on lawyer pay over the weekend and I make as much or more than the average male attorney in the top ten percent of pay as a lawyer.  I don't mean to brag and I am not rich.  My point is that when women believe in themselves, work hard, and are not dependent on others to employ them, it is possible to be paid fairly. We have to discard the notion that we must depend on bosses for our compensation, or, in the alternative, we must stand up to the bosses who refuse to compensate us fairly.  We cannot hope for others to fight for us or pray that bosses treat us equally.  We must demand to be treated fairly for the hard work we do.

Until women make sure they are paid fairly, or fight by way of the courts if they are not, we can not just sit idly by and hope someone else takes care of us.  We are 52% of this country and we provide important services.  We must insist on justice. As my former boss used to say, "People do the right things if you make them."  We are the majority.  We can make them.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Misfit Underdogs

By all objective measures, so far this year, my firm has had a good year.  We have had two trials, almost back to back, and won the first one big time, and won the second pretty good.  Hold on, though, we have more trials coming up and our winning record could very well plummet.  Time will tell. Sometimes I tell my clients that what my job really entails is being a professional gambler.  We generally work on a contingent fee basis.  We take significant financial and emotional risks when we take on a case.  We usually grow to love our clients and understand the devastating effects litigation can have on a person, especially when the case is lost.  As a lawyer, I learn valuable lessons from losing a case, but I fear my clients are not so lucky.  The last time I remember a significant loss, I grieved for six months, for my client and for myself.

I believe that when a case is lost, it is ultimately the lawyer's fault.  I hear people say, "We got a bad jury, or the client was unlikeable, or the judge hated us."   That's baloney.  Either you did a bad job in jury selection, you failed to empathize with your client, you failed to empathize with the job, or you were selling a bill of goods you felt were defective and you should never had taken the case.  That is what 30 years as a trial lawyer has taught me.

Even though going to trial is frightening, it can be invigorating.  I have seen clients who transform, back into what I imagine they were like before the harassment or retaliation.  It can be magical.  And for any adrenaline-junky lawyer like me, it can be a great high, until the adrenaline crashes and my whole being crashes with it.

Since I and my firm represent clients in discrimination matters, I mainly feel like a rebel warrior, fighting the awful corporate strongholds for justice.  Ha!  It is fun to have such a romanticized self-view, even when it may be much more economic than romantic.  But, I still tell myself I am a rebel.  My favorite saying is from Gandhi, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win."  We are not part of the status quo.  I tell myself that our job is to level the playing field, ya da ya day ya da.  We aren't part of a mega-law firm.  We don't follow the rules (actually, generally we do because we want to keep our law licenses.)

Well, this year, I was apparently nominated for two awards.  I do not know who nominated me for either award.  I do not know the criteria except in general terms for either award, but I am receiving them along with others.  Both awards are for litigation, one for a career of litigation, the other for being a woman litigating. I am getting ready for a fancy schmancy dinner, the kind I usually don't go to, to hob nob with other rewardees at a fancy hotel in front of important people in fancy clothes.  The second award will be in a more relaxed atmosphere with many of the Kansas City bar present.

I relate this not to toot my own horn (in truth, perhaps to toot my own horn somewhat).  I am extremely honored and grateful, because being recognized is much more important to me than my "rebel" self knew.  Yet, I have this part of me that believes that people tend to abuse money, power, fame, unless they have an unusual constitution and a great deal of pre-existing self-esteem.  While I realize that these awards are not Pulitzers or Nobel prize, it is a little disconcerting to my self-image as a misfit rebel to be honored by the powerful among my profession.  Yikes!  Will I start having dinner parties and playing golf, while discussing my investment portfolio?  Is there Botox or lypo-suction in my future?  Should I dye my nearly all white hair back to the unnatural (I was a dark haired brunette) blondish hue I had for years that cost tons of money and time? Or, my greatest fear of all, will I have to start dieting again after swearing off a lifetime of yo-yo dieting?

I truly appreciate being recognized.  However, these awards are wreaking havoc with my perceived rebel creds.  I feel like a pirate being honored by the British Navy or the Sheriff of Nottingham acknowledging the good work of Robin Hood.  In reality, I am probably no Robin Hood nor pirate, but more like an annoying horsefly that buzzes in your ear until you swat it dead.

Well, here is for the horseflies, the persistent pests who won't bid rid from buzzing your face!  Here is to dog that whines at your feet until you feed it a table scrap!  Here is to the persistent souls, who, regardless or talent or intelligence, refuse to give up!  Here is to the misfit underdog!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Shalom Plaza and the Jewish Community Center Tragedies

I was going to write a post about my dog, but it seems that tragic events in Kansas City intervened. Apparently, a man, who when apprehended, yelled "Heil, Hitler," after he killed three innocent people outside Jewish places in the Kansas City area.  A 14 year old is among the victims.  The man shot indiscriminately in the parking lot, killing visitors who were there for other purposes.  Although I know a lot about anti-Semitism from stories of my family, I don't remember ever living in a place where there was an anti-Semitic attack during my lifetime.

My parents both ended up in Kansas City because of anti-Semitism.  My father's family came to Kansas City in the early 1900's from Poland.  My grandparents came here via Palestine in 1928, the year before my father was born.  My grandmother's sister never left Warsaw, and she and her family were slaughtered by the Nazis.

My mother and her parents and grandmother fled Germany in November 1938, weeks before Kristallnacht.  She had two first cousins who, as boys, separately left their respective families, both to never see their parents again.  My grandfather's sister and brother and their spouses died in Auschwitz. One son got to Kansas City at 16 years of age, to fend for himself while unsuccessfully trying to save his parents.  The other cousin, at eleven, hid out in France from 1939 through the end of the war, visiting his parents once before they were sent to Auschwitz to perish in 1942.  Henry led a life no boy  should have to live on the run in France with false names and constant fear of discovery by the Vichy.

When I was growing up, all of my grandparents had accents.  My grandmother's German accent was so comforting to me.  She called me Lynnilla and my siblings were Joycilla and Robbilla.  We used to mimic her "Auch du lieber, Gott in himmel," and we had "bed hoopsillas" (a piece of chocolate) for when we went to bed.  She fixed sauertbraten and schnitzel and talked about what it was like as a little girl when her father went off to fight for Germany in World War I.  Yet, she really didn't talk about the Nazis.  What I learned came in little pieces through time.  My mother as a little girl recalled the Gestapo storming their house every Sabbath evening.  She  remembers the non-Jewish children throwing rocks and her and how my grandmother steered her down side streets when the Nazi youth marched by so that that they would not have to salute.  In retrospect, I wondered why they never taught us German, and then I realized how they no longer wanted German to be a language the family spoke.  When Oma, my grandmother, took our whole family to Israel when I was 20, I remember how she almost could not endure our trip to the Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem.  Oma did not like to cry in public, but she could not hide her tears.

I  have always been drawn to representing those who were singled out because of their race, or sex, or age.  I grew up when women started gaining momentum in the 1970's.  Perhaps, I was just part of the "feminist revolution," but that didn't ring true.  I relate to those people who have to fight to get equal rights.  In my mind, I relate to the plight of African-Americans, Muslims, gays, sexual harassment victims.  I know what it is like not to get a fair shake, even though I personally never had it so bad. After all, I grew up in Kansas City.  I went to college.  No one tried to kill me.  No one refused to give me a chance.  But, for me, I have always related to the plight of my forebears, to the generations of Jews who were reviled and persecuted, like those of my forebears just one generation removed from me.  And I weep for the hundreds of years that this country fostered barbarism and slavery, even though my family did not even live in this country then and was undoubtedly subjected to Pogroms during those times.  

I know that we are humans and humans are imperfect.  I know that we can all be cruel.  I know that I have been cruel towards others more times than I care to admit.  I read books about war and genocide. I seem to be obsessed with humans' inhumanity to humans and I try to understand why we are this way. I read about Rwanda and Vietnam and North Korea.  I try to understand how this country could have been founded off the toil of slaves in the not so distant past.  Is this what humans are?  Are we destined to be violent and jealous and cruel?

On days like today, I feel sad.  Perhaps I am so profoundly sad because this act today in this piece of my world was fueled by anti-Semitism.  Yet, I hear tales of racism and sexism and ageism almost daily. I wonder what will really have to happen for the hatred in this world to dissipate.  I suppose the hatred will always be there.  We can only hope to understand why people hate others and work to make things better.  I guess that is little consolation to the parents of that poor boy, who wasn't even Jewish, and just happened to be in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center today.  I am too old to believe that this poor child's death and the deaths of the two adults were anything but tragic.  Will we ever overcome our cruelty to others?  I am not hopeful.  I wish I was.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Discrimination Gone Subtle

When I was growing up, racism, sexism, gay-bashing, was pretty in your face.  People flung racial epithets, using the n word and worse, with little consciousness of the obnoxious nature of the words they spoke.  Sexual harassment was not a phrase - bosses oftentimes expected "perks" from their secretaries, who were never called administrative professionals.  Andy 95% of all gay people were in the closet.

Times have changed.  While prejudice is less direct, unfortunately that does not mean it is eliminated.   Racism, sexism, homophobia all exist, but are harder to spot.  Most people, have a hard time identifying their own bias.  When I say most people, I include myself.

Bias and prejudice have negative connotations.  However, we all have biases and prejudices, that is the nature of humanity.  We all have experiences, both good and and bad, which help to form who we are. Most of us grew up with people who look and act like we do.  When an aging white man crosses a lonely street with and encounters a group of teenage African-American youth, he may feel anxious.  He knows no African-American youth.  He has pre-conceived notions based on what he hears, sees or reads.  Those notions may have nothing to do with fact, but he is afraid anyway.  Yet when he sits in a jury panel and is asked if he can be fair in a criminal case with an African-American defendant, he will say, "Of course I can be fair."  We all want to believe we are fair.  Few people today admit to being racist.  Yet, I suspect, to some extent many of us, regardless of whatever ethnic group or race with which we identify. has pre-conceived notions about others.  

That is what prejudice is, preconceived notions.  Making assumptions about groups of people is discrimination. We all make assumptions.  Most of us are afraid to admit that we make assumptions about people.  We don't want to be prejudiced.

I submit that people who recognize and admit their biases may be more prone to being fair.  Honestly, especially about oneself, is a good thing.   Introspection aids the ability to make just decisions.   Of course, those crazy folks in neo-Nazi groups or the KKK may admit their racism, but their admission is not the product of introspection, but of insecurity, fear and hate.

Before we believe that racism is dead because we have a President of mixed race, before we declare that we are "color-blind," in reality a code-word for insensitivity, before we declare that women fail to break the glass ceiling only because they interrupt their careers with child-rearing, let's have a dose of reality.  Racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and religious discrimination are alive and well.  We are just much for indirect about it.

Each of us, whatever or race, sex, sexual preference, age or religion, need to recognize how we have assumptions about others unlike us and those assumptions are prejudice, pre-judgment before we have facts.  Knowledge of our own feelings and assumptions is power.  Perhaps one day we will eliminate discrimination against humans, when we are all united against the space aliens invading our planet. Until that day of space invasion or global destruction, I suppose we will just have to do the best we can to eliminate attitudes that oppress others.  And we need to be honest about our own assumptions, even if it's hard and even if it's not politically correct. 

To a new dawn of opportunity for all.