I recently rewatched the 1993 movie Philadelphia with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, about a talented young lawyer dying of AIDS and his attempt to get justice for the workplace discrimination he suffers because of his illness. Though the two issues aren't exactly parallel, the fight for justice in Philadelphia reminds me of why we tackle the issues that women face in the law sector -- their efforts to become equal members of the system despite heavily male cultures and inflexible partner tracks that collide with starting families.
The law sector is emblematic of many career areas that require deep commitment to an established path, from specialized schooling to narrowly defined routes to success. What we've learned about the challenges female lawyers face can be applied to careers in accounting, consulting, higher education, medicine and more. Working Mother's Best Law Firms for Women initiative investigates the problems and encourages firms to create solutions and develop new, female-inclusive paths.
There's another reason why this initiative is so important to me: As Philadelphia so poignantly demonstrates, it is the law itself that plays a pivotal role in the progress we can make for women and all diverse groups. Denzel Washington's character had to overcome his own prejudices to accept the case, but the weapon that defeated the unjust behavior of the firm was, yes, the law.
From the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which made it a crime to fire a woman for being pregnant, to the establishment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which reviews more than 40,000 cases of gender discrimination yearly, the law is a crucial weapon in our women's rights arsenal. To deny women the ability to succeed in the law arena would, indeed, be a crime.