Women’s Commission Celebrates Role Models, Advances Groundbreaking Research
Despite diverse ages, careers and backgrounds, just what do successful women in law have in common? According to U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton — It’s “luck!”
U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton
Norton was one of four honorees at an April 21st reception held to raise awareness and funds for the next two phases of the Women of Color Research Initiative, a project of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. The next phases of the project will provide a comprehensive picture of the issues facing women attorneys of color and their employers in the corporate and government sectors, and compare that research with the experiences of women of color at law firms.
The research will be used to develop educational material that will help improve the retention and advancement of women of color in the legal profession.
In her comments, Norton stressed that successful female lawyers should have a sense of humility about their rise in prominence. In an impassioned speech, Norton noted that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was lucky to be born at the right time — the apex of the civil rights era. She observed that if he had been born a mere 10 years earlier, he would just have been a charismatic preacher whom no one would have ever heard of.
She challenged all attendees — more than one hundred people — to reach out and create more opportunities for young women around them. Norton believes it is an especially opportune time for such mentoring, for during times of recession and strife, those most vulnerable are the ones who are fresh to the legal profession.
(left to right) President-Elect Carolyn Lamm, ABA; Chair Roberta Liebenberg, ABA Commission on Women in the Profession; U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton; Sherry Bellamy, Verizon Business; and Beverly Perry, Pepco Holdings, Inc.
The other honorees included the ABA President-Elect Carolyn Lamm, one of the 50 Most Influential Women in America, according to the National Law Journal, whose law firm hosted the event. Lamm has committed to making diversity in the profession one of her top priorities when she takes the gavel after the ABA Annual Meeting in August.
Additionally, two women in the corporate sector were honored. Sherry Bellamy, vice president and deputy general counsel at Verizon Business, noted that when she hires outside counsel, a law firm’s dedication to diversity should be reflected in the total number of billable hours for a project, and not just during the “beauty pageant” vetting phase. Beverly Perry, senior vice president of government affairs and public policy for Pepco Holdings, Inc., thanked her friends, including Norton, as well as her first mentor, Judge Marian Blank Horn of the U.S. Court of Claims, for her professional success.
“We were delighted that, despite the economic downturn, our reception sold out and was such a resounding success,” said Roberta D. Liebenberg, chair of the women’s commission. “This strong support demonstrates that improving the retention and advancement of women attorneys of color remains a priority of the corporate and legal communities. The important work being done in the next phase of the commission’s research initiative will, like its prior groundbreaking studies, help to break down the barriers that have impeded the progress of women attorneys of color.”
Host Committee: (left to right) Lorie Masters, Pauline Schneider, Estelle Rogers, Bobbi Liebenberg, Holly Loiseau, Brigida Benitez, April Oliver, Karen Lockwood, and Theresa Davis
The event inspired many up-and-comers. One young associate said she was touched by “the pure passion in the speakers’ voices.” Hearing the struggle of the honorees to become successful in their generation, while maintaining hope and strong-wills in their battle for equality, moved her. “This made me realize that as a young female, I should not forget how they have paved the way for me, but also that I should continue the fight alongside them.”