I love watching women dominate in a sport that has been dominated by men for so long. Similarly, I love seeing women excel in the practice of law which was also created by men to be practiced by men.
Saturday night’s NXT Takeover Brooklyn may prove to be World Wrestling Entertainment (“WWE”)’s Pay Per View of the year. Each match was entertaining and each had an emotional element which was supported by great booking and storytelling. One thing that stood out to me was the quality of women’s matches that Takeover featured. Immediately following Takeover was a feature called “Women’s Revolution” which quickly broke down the history of women’s wrestling and it made me think about the dynamics of women in the legal profession.
The Evolution of Women in WWE
Women’s wrestling took hold in the mid-50s with the likes of the Fabulous Moolah, a legend in women’s wrestling. During the following decades, wrestling promoters worried that viewers wouldn’t want to see women wrestling. Women’s wrestling went through several changes in the decades thereafter, with several break-out stars such as Jacqueline, Trish Stratus, Lita, and Sable. However, they fell into a void where the focus was more on their looks and sexuality than their actual talent. Also, some reported intimidation and harassment from male wrestlers that did not believe that they belonged in the business.
The Evolution of Women in Law
While women began joining the legal profession shortly after being given the right to vote in 1920, law firm partners worried that clients wouldn’t want to work with women and hired less as a result.
Women lawyers have also experienced, and still continue to experience, gender discrimination in law firms. According to a 2011 psychological survey published in Law and Human Behavior, female lawyers were more likely to experience gender discrimination that had nothing to do with sexual advances, and more to do with an attack on their gender. Specifically, the gender harassment would “[reject] women and [attempt] to drive them out of jobs where they are seen to have no place.”
Lack of Mentorship Opportunities in Women’s Wrestling
Nearly two years ago, the WWE announced the “Diva’s Revolution,” which brought a slew of women into the business. Again, it appeared that they were hired for their physical appearance and it was clear that their talent needed time to be developed. Their inability to perform in the ring was less about their innate abilities and more about the lack of training and mentoring they were given before being thrown in the ring. As a result, they were given matches that lasted no more than 3 minutes, horrible storylines and little to no chance of advancement in the company.
Lack of Mentorship Opportunities for Women Lawyers
A 2009 report of the New Jersey State Employment and Training Commission found that most women lawyers felt unsupported in their work environment due to lack of mentoring and lack of advancement opportunities. Let’s face it. No matter what law school we went to, no matter whether we were summer associates with our current law firm before beginning practice and no matter how well we did in our judicial clerkships, each of us, regardless of gender, needs a mentor when we embark on the practice of law. We need mentors in order to get invaluable feedback on our work product, in order to navigate and immerse into the law firm culture and to get an understanding of the path to partnership.
Recognizing the Value of Gender Diversity in Women’s Wrestling
NXT, the developmental circuit of WWE, began hiring women wrestlers around the same time that the Diva’s Revolution was announced in the WWE. Unlike the Divas in WWE, the women in NXT were trained, mentored and developed to be quality wrestlers. This was demonstrated by their technical abilities in the ring, skills on the mic and legitimate storylines. Most importantly, the women in NXT were given a chance to fight real matches over sustained periods of time, including a 30-minute main event match at a Pay Per View. Wrestlers like Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley changed the landscape of women’s wrestling. Thus, NXT’s willingness to recognize the contribution of women to its brand allowed WWE and other wrestling companies to see the value of women in wrestling.
Recognizing the Value of Gender Diversity in Law Firms
According to a 2016 study, conducted by Peterson Institute for International Economics, a nonprofit group based in Washington, and EY, the audit firm formerly known as Ernst & Young, determined that women in corporate leadership roles lead to higher profits. Therefore, when law firms began to recognize the importance of gender diversity, other big law firms began to follow suit. According to the May 2016 American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, women make up 36% of the legal profession and women make up 44.7% of the associates in private practice. Additionally, a majority of BigLaw firms have implemented diversity initiatives, training and mentorship programs that benefit women directly.
We Often Privately Ask Ourselves: Is it Worth It?
This past weekend, at NXT Takeover Brooklyn, I witnessed one of my favorite women’s wrestlers Bayley lose a hard-fought match with Asuka. Throughout that match, I cringed as I witnessed her take kick after kick to the head. And I thought to myself, these women have to fight so hard and take hits like the men in order to be successful in this business. And these hits may be legitimately killing her in the long run. But Bayley, Asuka, Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch are at the top of their sport because they not only love the sport, but they are willing to take the kicks to the head to get to the top. They know what they are doing may be harmful to their health, but they love it nonetheless. It’s all a part of the sport that they love.
I recently settled a case I had been tirelessly working on for three years. In those three years, I took a lot of figurative kicks to the head: court orders I didn’t agree with, disagreements with my adversary over various legal issues and late nights and weekends of work to keep up with everything that the case demanded. At one point, I got so sick, I was out of work for a full week. I believe that the stress from the case was a major contributor to me getting that sick and I had to take a step back and question whether this was all worth it.
Often, wrestlers get injured in the ring. And I am sure they sit back and wonder if it is worth it. But, like me, they are emboldened in their love for what they do. Women wrestlers who are injured go through whatever healing process they need to get back in the ring. And I go through the spiritual process that I need to go through in order to get back to the law. I realized that my “injury” was one that I could not see but it needed the same amount of healing in order for me to go on. This is why I do yoga every day and meditate twice per day.
Women wrestlers have to do physical therapy on a regular basis to make sure that they can sustain their life in the ring and I follow a spiritual routine on a regular basis to make sure that I can sustain my life in the practice of law. It’s all worth it to us. And I think we all hope that our ability to make it in our respective professions despite the challenges we face will lead the way for those who enter the profession after us.