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Webinar explores creative opportunities for women lawyers during the pandemic

Senior Editor Top Stories

Dori Foster-MoralesWorking from home to juggle childcare no longer raises a cloud of suspicion, and Zoom is giving women easier access to the board room.

Those are just some of the hidden advantages the COVID-19 pandemic has created for women attorneys, according to an October 18 webinar, “Leveling the Playing Field During the Pandemic: Creative Opportunities for Women Lawyers.”

Sponsored by the Gender Equality Subcommittee of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, the webinar was the first in a speaker series designed to fulfill the recommendations of a 2017 gender equality report.

Before the health crisis, women lawyers were derided as being on a “mommy track” if they asked for flex time to care for children or family members, said Florida Bar President Dori Foster-Morales.

“I was one of those people who was like, ‘Oh yeah, people who are working from home are really working,’” Foster-Morales said. “The pandemic has created the true sense that you can work from home.”

Women lawyers will be plying their trade remotely for years to come, Foster-Morales predicted.

Anonymous surveys conducted during Foster-Morales’ virtual town halls in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits suggested that most lawyers — 85% — want some form of remote legal proceedings to continue after the pandemic subsides.

“The [Supreme] Court has not issued a rule yet, but I don’t need a crystal ball,” she said. “Working in this manner is here to stay.”

Company research confirms that women transitioned successfully to remote work, said Jennifer Suarez Jankes, director and associate general counsel for Citi’s Institutional Client Group, which has offices worldwide.

“Our productivity reports have really been outstanding during COVID,” she said. “Our women employees have really shown that they have managed this balance.”

Citi’s corporate culture embraced remote work, Jankes said. When the pandemic descended, managers invested heavily to give employees the equipment and technical support they needed for home offices, including help with childcare.

“We saw that that really had a positive benefit,” she said.

Remote technology has given homebound women a stronger presence in the corporate culture, Jankes said.

“There’s lots more access to senior meetings, you’ve got a seat at the table,” she said. “That’s been a huge opportunity, especially for women.”

Jennifer ComptonLong delegated the role of caregiver, women were better equipped to transition to remote work, said Jennifer Compton, managing partner (Sarasota office) and Management Committee member for Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick.

“No matter if you are a mom or a caregiver, women in general, we’re good at multitasking…working until three in the morning,” she said. “Across the board, across all genders, I think that if you survey people you would find, that by and large, women in the workplace have done better at adapting and succeeding in this area than their male counterparts.”

Remote technology has been a powerful leveler throughout the legal profession, panel members agreed.

That includes the psychological and the physical, according to panelist Jenay Iurato, owner of Iurato Law Firm, P.L.

“I’m 4-11. I’m very petite,” Iurato said. “I love and embrace Zoom, because it has made attorneys and judges focus on me, focus on my face, and what I say. Zoom is really an advantage for women…we have a voice.”

The pandemic has given lawyers a stronger sense of community, and as a result, they are less combative, said Caryn Carvo, owner, Caryn Goldenberg Carvo, P.A.

“I have seen it with opposing counsel…it has reduced some of that vituperative communication,” she said. “With this pandemic, it has brought onto the scene a different type of culture.”

Nikki Lewis SimonFlorida Bar board member Nikki Lewis Simon, shareholder and chief diversity officer with Greenberg Traurig, said her firm was ahead of the curve because it had a manager devoted to wellness long before COVID-19.

When the pandemic closed schools, Greenberg Traurig offered subsidized tutoring to attorneys with children, she said.

“That has been a tremendous resource,” she said. “It has taken the burden off of our women colleagues.”

Citi employees have proven so adept at remote work during the pandemic that the next challenge will be to redefine the workday to combat burnout, Jankes said.

“You lose context as to what day it is,” she said. “We’re looking at how to do things differently, and to learn from this experience.”

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