Don’t Let the Door Swing Shut

I walked past three wonderful colleagues a moment ago. All three wore the uniform of male success: crisp white shirts, dark pants, and voices deep with confidence. I am wearing flats and an oversized shirt, as I am in the office today negotiating on behalf of some high-powered women executives, strategizing about a case where I represent a surgeon marginalized for speaking out against unsafe practices, and writing a brief on behalf of a worker in need of justice.

We exchanged pleasantries, and I smiled to myself, comfortable in knowing that I still do not quite fit in here, but also that I have worked to prove my value and surround myself with enough colleagues who reflect different realities in this world that this workplace has become home.

I am quite fortunate. Growing up, I had in the matriarchs of my family models of kindness, strength, and the sort of intellectual firepower that took a second seat to no one. Then, in my professional life, I had women mentors who achieved at the highest levels, demanded excellence from others, and were unapologetically themselves. They doled out support and criticism without favor or bias.

On a good day, I hope to approach some portion of the grace and grit I saw in these women.

But not all women share my good fortune in terms of role models. While many women find support in colleagues who share a sense that the opportunities are not there for them in the same way they exist for male coworkers, too often they cannot change the stubborn power dynamics they confront. Other women do not find support; instead, they see senior women who slipped through the door to opportunity, but who didn’t keep that door open for others.

I hear stories of those who have been shut out. Our challenge is to give voice to those who do not have the power of community or the ability to create the change that is needed. Those of us who have been lucky enough to crack the door open must make sure it does not swing shut. We must instead invite others to step over the threshold and create a room that welcomes their perspectives, hard work, and innovation. I believe—no matter how hard the work and how painful the setbacks—we can and will do this.