Women in Male-Dominated Jobs May Discover Some Unexpected Advantages

When I had my first child, in 2013, it never occurred to me not to return to my job after maternity leave. The same cannot be said of other people though, including—and perhaps, especially—women. I was routinely asked whether I would be staying home when the baby was born, though I never heard anyone ask my husband the same question. And when I requested that my firm add additional privacy (a curtain and a lock) to my office, so that I would be able to pump breast milk, I was told that my request would have to wait until I returned to work—an unspoken message that my firm would wait and see whether I would return to work before it invested any money in the small changes I had requested.

On the positive side, however, I’ve found that being a woman in a male-dominated industry can be a bonding experience for women. The legal profession is not particularly welcoming to mothers, with its long and sometimes unpredictable hours. For that reason, I’ve greatly appreciated having the opportunity to attend events, such as the American Bar Association’s Woman Advocate Committee, where women purposely promote other women. At these events, we have the opportunity to meet other women from all over the country and laugh about the sometimes funny things people have said to us—like the time an older male judge called me “young lady.” I decided to be flattered and, ultimately, won the case at trial. We show each other pictures of our children and discuss childcare solutions. At the same time, we network to refer cases to each other, and strategize about how to capture the jury’s attention and win our cases.

I like to think that being a woman has its own unique advantages, particularly when your adversary explicitly or implicitly underestimates your abilities. The only way to be a good lawyer is by being yourself—and that includes being a woman.