“I said on the equality side of it, that it is essential to a woman's equality with man that she be the decision-maker, that her choice be controlling.” – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I’ve always considered myself a leader. I was raised by a strong single mother so from a young age, my normal was seeing a woman as the head of household. Throughout adolescence and in law school, I always held leadership positions. I felt respected by professors and peers. And then I graduated and started work at my first law firm.
I quickly noticed that although there were several female partners, none held leadership positions. The lack of leadership was not due to the lack of ability or intelligence. In fact, it was quite the opposite. After talking to other young women lawyers within and outside my firm, I learned that it was pretty standard in the profession. Honestly, it was deflating. And now I felt like no matter how hard I worked, I would never get the proverbial “seat at the table.” I was frustrated. I wondered if I would ever have the leadership options.
I learned that sometimes getting a seat at the table requires asking for it. I sought out leadership positions within organizations outside my law firm. This helped boost my confidence within the firm. I had the awkward but important conversations about inequality.
As a young female lawyer, I want more than just a seat at the table. I want to see women’s perspectives and opinions respected and used in the legal profession. I worked for this, I earned this, I deserve to be here. It is so important that when women get to the table, we’re not mere observers. Speak up! As a society, we need to stop calling women and girls who speak up “aggressive.”
I know that I am here because of some women trailblazers, and I want my ceilings to be the floors of the young women behind me.
My journey as a young, biracial, female lawyer trying to navigate the legal profession has been difficult. With all that being said, I am still optimistic about the future for women, especially women from diverse backgrounds. I’ve recently joined a firm where not only do I have a seat at the table, but I also feel as though my opinion is valued and my perspective sought out. I’m even more optimistic when I speak with young women in law school and high school students on the mock trial team I coach. I know that I am here because of some women trailblazers, and I want my ceilings to be the floors of the young women behind me.
As a final note, I think it’s important to emphasize that women’s empowerment need not be to the detriment of men. There are enough spots at the table for everyone! And although I’ve dealt with some pretty backward men in this profession, I’ve met just as many who are extremely progressive. I think it will take some time for the profession to catch up, but I truly believe that diversity, in every form, can bring much innovation and productivity to the profession.
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Who has most inspired you in your career?
Justice Ruth Badger Ginsburg inspired me to enter the profession. Not only is she a legal genius, but she acts as a guidepost for a hard work ethic and legal integrity.
What I appreciate most about RBG is her ability to dominate legal arguments by being prepared. She’s competitive, but she doesn’t just argue based on political lines or emotion. Her legal decisions are based on thorough analysis and respect for legal precedent. She is poised and professional. She’s a champion of women. She fought for ending the pay gap between men and women. She climbed the mountain of misogyny. Most important, she is unapologetically herself. I believe fully that I have the opportunities I do because of Justice Ginsburg’s persistence. I have a “Notorious RBG” poster in my office as a daily reminder of where hustle can get you.
Jasmyne M. Baynard, Gunta Law Offices S.C., Milwaukee.
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