lawyers club extends women’s reach

Originally Published in the San Diego Daily Transcript

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When I was younger, I resisted becoming a feminist for all the wrong reasons. I was afraid people, including my male classmates in high school and college, would see me as an angry militant “man hater.” Anyone who knows me knows that’s not true at all.

Later, after earning undergraduate and master’s degrees in business and joining the male-dominated world of commercial real estate as a licensed broker, it became immediately apparent to me that there was a need for more equality and balance between genders in the work force.

Only then did I realize these attributes had long been feminist core values. Seeing first-hand the inequities, I shed my earlier fears and began referring to myself as a feminist. Since then, I’ve looked for ways to own the title.

That quest has included seeking out other self-empowered women who are equally committed to cultural progress as I am. I found such women beyond what had been the traditional boundaries of my business. What stood out to me as an organization firmly committed to raising the status of professional women is the Lawyers Club of San Diego.

Keep in mind, I am a commercial real estate broker — not a lawyer. I don’t have much of a legal background other than the basic tenets I need to know in my business and a three-week stint in law school. And so, Lawyers Club seemed at first an unnatural fit for me. I was soon to discover that nothing was further from the truth.

What I joined is a group of incredibly accomplished women and men (17 to 20 percent of Lawyers Club’s members are men), well-credentialed and successful, who come together to support the mission to advance the status of women in the law and society. These women and men volunteer their valuable time and talents for the mission while taking care of their families and themselves. In short, they practice what they preach.

What is it they preach? Who better to explain the mission and work of the Lawyers Club than its newly elected president, Johanna Schiavoni? A long-time advocate of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Johanna is empowering members to “reach out, reach up and reach back.”

“We have to reach out – to women, to men, to those within the legal community and beyond,” Schiavoni begins. “To build power, we must collaborate, network, make ourselves visible and our voices heard. To have power, we must take power. We have to reach up – we cannot stay anchored in our comfort zone. Instead, groups like Lawyers Club should help us springboard to the next thing. We have to reach back – we must work to mentor the next generation of leaders who will advance our mission. By pushing ourselves and bringing others along, we advance our mission.”

That said, there’s much more to Lawyers Club than its written mandate. Among its many member benefits, Lawyers Club stages a series of relevant educational and inspirational events, such as “Developing your professional vision: What would you do if you could not fail?” “Balancing across the legal professional: From having it all to leaning in,” and “Work-life balance and the realities of being a lawyer in the 21st century,” These and other such topics can make a positive difference in the professional and personal lives of thousands of women, including mine.

Lawyers Club’s Professional Advancement Committee (PAC) addresses its namesake in a smaller group within Lawyers Club’s 1,200-plus members. PAC presents cutting-edge programs to inspire and equip female lawyers to succeed at the highest levels of the legal profession through innovative training, networking and professional growth opportunities.

Recent PAC programs, include, “Increase Your Visibility: How to Enhance Current Client Relationships and Build New Ones,” and “How to Leverage Self-Evaluations for Professional Advancement.” Beyond planning these programs, PAC’s monthly meetings include discussions of professional advancement topics with accomplished members of the legal community, networking with other like-minded, highly motivated individuals, and discussions of professional and motivational literature, including this quarter’s book selection, “Lean In,” by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer.

Spearheaded by Shalini Kedia and Cassandra Hearn, the PAC couldn’t have better leadership. Both women head their own practices, mediation and criminal defense respectively, and both have the talent to bring together a diverse group of women from all areas of law, not to mention those of us from other industries, into a cohesive, highly functional group.

“The success of PAC programs is directly attributable to the members who comprise the committee and the leaders in our industry who step up to support the Lawyers Club mission,” Kedia said.

So, how does all this benefit others who may or may not be a lawyer or a woman? Glad you asked.

First of all, Lawyers Club’s mission and goals are not proprietary; they are universal and extend well beyond its membership into society. It takes the entire community to fulfill Lawyers Club’s mission to advance the status of women in the law and society. We all have a stake in achieving gender equality and balance if we’re to live in a society where everybody has the full potential to succeed and contribute.

Then there’s our future. I, for one, believe Lawyers Club’s commitment to reach back to our young people will result in a future generation of lawyers who can and will make a difference in tomorrow’s world. That begins with educating our society so that future high school and college coeds, both women and men, can proudly don the feminist label and know that it stands for equality.

For more information on Lawyers Club of San Diego, please visit www.lawyersclubsandiego.com.

This op-ed originally appeared in the San Diego Daily Transcript.

Star Hughes is a director at Hughes Marino, a San Diego commercial real estate company specializing in San Diego tenant representation and building purchases.


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