The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have put a spotlight on gender disparity and workplace behavior, by increasing awareness and ramping up the conversation on how, as a country, we can overcome these issues and put everyone on an equal playing field.
And to truly shatter the glass ceiling, the conversation must continue, and gender-specific issues should be looked at through a different lens.
For Lisa Schmitz Mazur, a partner at McDermott Will and Emery, who co-authored the book The Law of Digital Health with Bernadette Broccolo, also a partner at the law firm, this is especially true in the healthcare law field.
“We should continue exploring ways to shatter the ceiling – or, in the short term, materially elevate it – by thoughtfully educating our colleagues, clients, friends and family on the existence of detrimental, and at times preconceived, notions of gender-specific strengths and weaknesses,” Mazur said. “Thought leaders, including our friends and colleagues at McDermott Will & Emery, are working to change the way we think and approach gender roles and communication styles, thereby helping overcome these workplace barriers.”
The law firm has a “collaborative spirit” and an openness to those tough discussions, explained Mazur. She shared an experience with a male colleague who was “mansplaining” during a meeting. Instead of internalizing the situation, Mazur called out the behavior.
“He had no idea: It was an eye-opening experience for him … and he apologized. It was a nice experience,” she said. “Attaching descriptors and the level of attention in the news has been good. It allows us to be informative.”
“It wouldn’t have happened years ago,” Broccolo added.
There also needs to be a shift in how issues are both labeled and addressed. Broccolo explained that practicing law requires long working hours and an intense focus that can prove challenging for both genders to balance both personal and professional obligations.
If we stop thinking about ‘work/life balance’ as a gender-specific issue and look instead at this need for balance as a family issue, we will see more employers implement policies that help both men and women achieve a sense of harmony between their personal and professional lives, Broccolo and Mazur agreed.
The final piece is collaboration and mentorship. Mazur attributes her success to Broccolo’s willingness to collaborate and take her under her wing. She said Broccolo trained her and helped her learn from mistakes, which was encouraging and provided a valuable resource.
“Women should support other women, and Bernadette has always been a huge advocate for that,” said Mazur.
Early in her career, Broccolo explained that she wouldn’t have been able to play that role, as there weren’t many other women in the field.
“It was lonelier,” said Broccolo.
But the landscape has changed and now there is much more collaboration across genders and age groups, she explained. Those relationships help build passion and make the work more enjoyable.
“Find something you’re passionate about because it becomes less like work, and you’re more likely to be successful,” said Broccolo. “The key to success is being passionate: That passion, not just for the subject of the law, but the passion around the really good results that can be achieved for the patients and the population health.”
To Broccolo, women need to combine that passion with a “‘work harder and do better’” approach to achieve recognition and advance their legal careers.
“By no means straightforward, this approach takes perseverance, patience and, most importantly, personal confidence – an attribute which may be just as important as professional ability,” Broccolo said.