For most of my 15 years as an attorney, I have dedicated myself to the practice of labor and employment law. I represent employers and employees (including federal government employees). Along the way, I have “liked,” “commented,” “shared,” and generally vocalized my support for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace and beyond. In fact, my client work is often done, if not expressly in the name of advancing DEI, certainly in the pursuit of its advancement.
Yet, I did not necessarily put my money where my mouth was through direct financial contributions or through volunteering my time for the advancement of DEI. I realized that I could do more, and in 2022, things changed. This year, I joined a women’s bar association, namely the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia. I joined that organization as a male attorney for two reasons that are relevant to DEIB and, I hope, helpful to anyone looking to advance DEIB in their workplace or professional sphere.
First, I wanted to volunteer my time to help advance women in the law, including students who might have an interest in future law practices involving the representation of federal government employees. Protecting our civil servants and developing the next generation of lawyers, in particular women lawyers, is critical to our democracy. I learned this firsthand by living, working, and attending law school in the Washington, D.C. area. Between civil service employment and internships, I worked in the federal government before, during, and for a time after law school. Now, one of the three pillars of my labor and employment practice involves representing federal employees, who I defend in disciplinary cases, represent in discrimination claims, and guide through processes like obtaining reasonable accommodations or being the subject of a workplace investigation. From spending time on these proverbial front lines, I have learned that the advancement of DEIB in legal workplaces, including the federal government, and more broadly in our legal system, is stymied when we fail to advance women in the law. Granted, failing to advance women in the law is not the only way in which DEIB is stymied, but certainly it is a major way.
Second, and related to the previous point, representation matters. We are reminded of that fact year after year. This year was no exception. In fact, this year’s reminder came with an exclamation point, in the form of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade and ruled that women have no federal constitutional right to choose. To paraphrase the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there will be enough women on the Supreme Court of the United States when there are nine women justices. Perhaps no court decision in the last half century has brought that truth into focus more than Dobbs. Advancements in DEIB in the workplace and beyond are stymied when men and women are not equal under the law, and when women lack sufficient representation in all places where decisions are made, to again paraphrase Justice Ginsburg.
Coincidentally, my first women’s bar association co-chair meeting was scheduled the same day that the decision came down in Dobbs. Understandably, the meeting had a funereal quality to it, at least partly, as goodbyes were said (for now) to the federal right of women to choose. At the same time, there was a sense of total resolve to keep moving forward and to continue working for women’s right to an equal place under the law and in society. That display of resolve reminds us that the work of advancing DEI, such as through advancing the rights of women, was neither done last year nor was it undone this year. Rather, it simply continues on
Women have endured, and routinely still do endure, unfair treatment as a matter of law and as an everyday artifact of our society. Nothing less than total engagement will change things for the better. So, when I was asked to write an article, the decision to write was easy and the topic essentially chose itself. My advice for anyone looking to join the cause of advancing DEIB is continue to do things such as like, comment and share DEI-related content on social media, but also give and join where you can to make tangible differences.
About the Author
Kevin J. Shehan is the owner and founder of Shehan Legal, PLLC, a law practice focused on employment law and the workplace. Kevin represents employers, employees, and federal government employees. firstname.lastname@example.org