I vividly recall the historic nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and I am equally elated by the historic and symbolic nomination and confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson—another critical “first” which puts focus on the gains women of color have made in the legal field while also punctuating the well-documented gaps, inequities, and continuing need for improvement.
About the author
Jane Levine is chief compliance officer at financial services company DailyPay. Prior to joining DailyPay, she was the chief global compliance officer and head of government and regulatory affairs at NYSE-listed Sotheby’s.
Earlier in her career, Levine was an attorney with law firms Paul Weiss and Proskauer. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at Columbia University School of Law and an advisory board member of the program on corporate compliance and enforcement at New York University School of Law. She is a founding board member of Beyond #MeToo.
The much-needed representation of women of color in the legal field at all levels—inclusive of the highest levels of the judicial system to private practice and in-house positions—is a work in progress. In the realm of compliance, women have also begun to make a mark, but there is still a lack of high-level representation.
Data from the U.S. Labor Department shows compliance is one of the fastest-growing professions for women over the past 20 years. Yet, a recent survey conducted by Compliance Week found among a cohort of 90 chief compliance officers and chief ethics and compliance officers, women were paid 71 percent of what men with the same title were paid on average.
While it’s important to celebrate positive change, we should be continuously asking how we can make more women thrive in our field. Below are some thoughts.
Be a mentor and a sponsor
It is widely recognized mentorship and sponsorship are incredibly important to success and advancement in corporations, particularly for historically marginalized communities. As mentors, we provide guidance, support, and advice, but sponsorship takes this a step further.
When we set out to be sponsors, we act as advocates for our mentees and work to advance their careers by marketing and defending them to stakeholders inside and outside the organization. One expert has described good sponsorship as a combination of four behaviors: amplifying, boosting, connecting, and defending. Being a sponsor means you invest in the advancement of a mentee’s career using your own political and/or social leverage to help them succeed.
I know from experience being a sponsor can also be personally rewarding. I am proud to be a member of the first mentoring committee for a new project called “When There Are Nine,” established in 2020 in partnership with the Federal Bar Foundation by a group of women who served together as assistant U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York. The project’s mission is to honor the lifelong work of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by creating a scholarship and related programming that will advance equity and diversity within the legal profession and continue Ginsburg’s many efforts to expand career opportunities for women attorneys.
Close the gaps that exist for women in the workplace
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought hardship to many across the globe, including a particularly adverse impact on women in the workforce.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of February 2022, men have recouped all their labor force losses over the previous two years, while there are one million fewer women in the workforce compared to February 2020. In December 2020, women accounted for a net 100 percent of jobs lost. And the picture is even bleaker for women of color and people with disabilities who are contending with slower recovery and lingering higher unemployment rates than white women.
While flexible working hours and schedules can benefit everyone, mothers win when employers implement flextime and part-time work opportunities, especially in the face of the loss of childcare during the pandemic. Research demonstrates universal high-quality childcare would increase women’s employment, with the greatest economic gain experienced by Black and Latinx women, and would increase women’s lifetime earnings and retirement security.
The legal world is no different. A 2021 report from the American Bar Association found 53 percent of women with children under the age of five and 41 percent of women with children aged 6-13 are thinking about going part time .
The field would benefit from a mindset shift related to taking time off for parenting reasons. The bottom line is that building a reliable, high-quality childcare infrastructure is critical to closing persistent gaps and inequities in the workplace that negatively impact all women and have the harshest consequences for women of color and other historically marginalized groups.
Create an environment where women feel empowered
To bring more women into law and compliance, those already in it have a responsibility to demand a better environment that lowers barriers to entry and enables women to succeed.
In 2019, I spoke on a panel at a conference on compliance and culture sponsored by the NYU Program on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement. The panelists were so inspired by each other we decided to meet again, and the upshot was the formation of a new organization called Beyond #MeToo (B#MT).
B#MT is a working group on corporate governance, compliance, and risk dedicated to understanding the root causes of workplace harassment, discrimination, and misconduct and deploying insights gained through the #MeToo movement to foster optimal corporate structures that prevent workplace misconduct and abuses of power. As a founding board member, I have helped put together multiple panel presentations, which are open to the public, including corporate executives and anyone interested in promoting workplace diversity and inclusion. We have gathered experts and leaders in their fields to talk about various topics, such as the role of litigation in fostering meaningful cultural change, the value of board diversity and how to achieve it, and the impact of Covid-19 on the workplace harassment of women and people of color.
Keeping the discussion about workplace equity alive and offering inspiration and practical insights will ultimately help to create a better environment that is more welcoming to women and supports their success once they’ve entered.