March is upon us, and thus the annual celebration of "Women's History Month." On March 8th, designated "International Women's Day," my inbox was flooded with promotional emails selling me something under the banner of "appreciating and celebrating women!" For me, this year, these "empowering" messages fell flat. The entire day felt performative and transactional in a year where women's rights have been consistently eroded.
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established a constitutional right to abortion. The Dobbs decision has led to a dizzying series of laws and court cases that seek to abolish or severely restrict abortion in many U.S. states. The onslaught is relentless, cruel, and many in this county will not stop until abortion is made illegal throughout the country. For the foreseeable future, my daughters will have less reproductive freedom than I had growing up.
Just this month, the Pew Research Center published findings that the gender pay gap has remained basically stable in the United States over the past 20 years. The gap is smaller for younger workers, but overall the results are similar to where the pay gap stood in 2002, when women earned 80% as much as men. Despite decades of attention and discussion about the disparity between men and women in the workplace, women remain underrepresented in leadership positions across the board: 7.4% of Fortune 500 companies had female CEOs in 2020 (with no Black or Hispanic women in charge); just 24 out of 100 U.S. senators are women; women make up only 23% of law firm equity partners.
This year we have also seen an alarming increase in anti-trans legislation as a movement calling for the "extinction" of transgender individuals continues to gain traction. The use of a diabetes medication to stay unnaturally thin is sweeping the country, reinforcing unnatural and harmful beauty standards and creating shortages of the drug for people who need it to live. I could go on.
It is easy to feel demoralized in a year where it feels like the rights of women and femmes are in a steep backslide. But as CWBA's History Co-Chair, I have also spent the year digitizing and archiving our historic records, including issues of the CWBA newsletter The Advocate, dating back to 1978. These records tell the story of a relentless effort, by a diverse group of women over several decades, to promote women in the law, address inequalities in our workplaces and legal system, and chip away at the structural disparities affecting women everywhere. I have marveled at the efforts by women lawyers, quietly or loudly, to advocate for justice in our community.
In 1989, CWBA leadership sent letters to every major law firm in Denver to draw attention to the fact that the University Club discriminated against women by precluding them from membership, essentially leading a boycott of the facility, and worked with the city to adopt an ordinance prohibiting discrimination by private clubs. In 1998, the CWBA organized to oppose proposed bills to ban "partial-birth" abortion and impose parental consent and waiting period requirements. Of course, in 2019, the CWBA public policy committee authored and advocated for the passage of Colorado's Equal pay for Equal Work Act. Over the years CWBA members worked on committees to advocate and change laws relating to paid family leave, child care tax credits, reproductive rights, access to justice, and women into the judicial pipeline. While pursuing these big accomplishments, our members had fun along the way: they formed close friendships, sang karaoke at Convention, and even formed a tap-dancing troupe!
Learning about our history helps us reflect on our present. While the challenges of this year are many, they are not new. We are predated by women who carried the torch, and the next generation will continue our progress. This Women's History Month we don't need to be sold shoes for a #hashtag girlboss or reminded of our excellence with a slogan. We can look within our organization and see the true impacts of women's power and effectiveness at every turn.
If you are interested in learning more about CWBA's history or our digitization project, please contact History Co-Chairs Laura Ratcliffe and Rhoda Pilmer.
Laura is Senior Counsel in the Government Section of Hanson Bridgett, a California-based law firm. She represents a variety of public and private entities in real estate, environmental, water, and municipal law matters. She handles various aspects of real property acquisition, particularly for large public infrastructure projects. She negotiates and drafts purchase and sale agreements, easements, and construction, financing, and license agreements. She also has experience with various aspects of commercial and industrial leasing transactions, asset purchase agreements, and other corporate transactions. Laura moved to Denver from Los Angeles in 2017.
She is the mother of three wonderful kiddos, Maya (5), Asha (3), and Kiran (1) and likes to run, hike, and explore new breweries.