Will Workplace Flexibility Advance Diversity?

Although I did not know it when I began pursuing a career in patent law, only about 20 percent of registered patent attorneys are women. While patent law and commercial litigation are male-dominated fields, I have been lucky to have many strong women mentors and role models since the earliest days of my career in patent law and intellectual property litigation. This helped give me the confidence to pursue a career at the intersection of technology and the law, and eventually grow into a leadership role at my firm.

I was able to do this not just due to hard work, dedication, and sponsorship by others in my organization, but also by pursuing flexible work options (including parental leaves and periods of working reduced hours) that allowed me to progress my career while being present for my growing family. I believe that seeking work-life balance while trying to “have it all” is one challenge (of many) that impacts diversity in the legal profession.

Working through the pandemic has proved that more of us can work flexibly and virtually to a much greater extent than we did before. Maintaining some of this flexibility may afford opportunities to advance diversity in the legal profession by allowing a wider range of individuals to pursue careers and leadership opportunities in ways more compatible with their lives outside the office. However, the possibility of virtual workplaces also presents challenges for leaders and institutions attempting to maintain the cohesion of their teams and the integrity of their cultures.

For me, the time apart during the pandemic has reinforced the importance of in-person interactions to establish connections, reinforce workplace culture, and best work collaboratively with our colleagues.

There continues to be room for growth in diversity, including gender diversity, in the legal profession. I hope that the lessons we have learned from recent challenges will allow us to support a more diverse range of professionals—not just those starting out in legal jobs, but those building long-term careers and growing into leadership roles. I would urge newer lawyers to interact collaboratively with their colleagues and seek out mentors, role models, and sponsors who can share experiences and help promote and guide their career development.