SERVING THE FILIPINO COMMUNITY SINCE 1993
MARCH 2, 2019

COVER STORY

COVER STORY

Pinay Powerhouse III Empowering Filipina Attorneys

 

By Edwin QUINABO

People should be treated as equals before the law, regardless of sex – this was the message behind “On the Basis of Sex,” a biopic of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that hit the big screen late last year.

In 1956, the young Ginsburg was one of only nine women admitted to Harvard law school in a class of 500. Harvard was founded in 1636, but it would take hundreds of years later in 1950 before it began admitting women to its law school.

The film touched on gender discrimination, being a minority in the legal profession, and balancing motherhood and career – real-life obstacles most female attorneys

encountered in the mostly all-male, all-white legal profession of the ‘50s-‘70s.

Times certainly have changed as women today make their mark in large numbers at the upper rungs of law. But challenges remain for professional women in the workplace; and women of color in particular are still fighting for empowerment, fighting to flourish in the field of law.

While the number of Filipino women practicing and entering law is growing, Filipina attorneys are still trailblazers with many saying they are the first woman in their entire extended families to become a lawyer. The National Filipino American Lawyers Association (NFALA) estimates there are about 3,000 to 6,000 Filipino-American lawyers.

Filipina attorneys want to change that number. They’re networking. They’re making their presence known; and mentoring aspiring Filipinas to join their ranks.

Pinay Powerhouse III

Just as the pioneering Ginsburg was saying just by her presence at the halls of Harvard in the ‘50s, “that, we, women are here, claiming this space,” -- Filipina attorneys are doing the same across the nation, saying with their presence, “We are here. We exist. We are claiming the space -- it is ours.”

Pinay Powerhouse III, “Shine on,” a conference for empowering Filipina attorneys, will take place on March 29-31 at the Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach.

Atty. Joanne Badua, a member of the Hawaii Executive Committee helping to put together Pinay Powerhouse III, explains some of the challenges women attorneys face today and why an event like this is needed.

“Female empowerment is evident such as Cardi B becoming the first solo woman to win the Best Rap Album at the Grammy’s, and Sandra Oh making history as the first Asian woman to host the Golden Globes. However, the American Bar Association (ABA) in 2018 did a study and found that women’s experiences differ from men’s and affect women’s longevity in the law.

“The study found those in organizational leadership need to understand the importance of retaining women lawyers, who leave their profession because of stereotypes and burdens female lawyers face compared to their male counterparts.

“This includes 81% of 1,300 female respondents being mistaken for a lower-level employee (0% for men), 60% leaving firms because of caretaking commitments (46% for men), 54% were responsible for arranging child care (1% for men), 39% were responsible for cooking meals (11% for men), 34% leave work for children’s needs (5% for men),” said Badua.

She calls Pinay Powerhouse a safe space for those that identify as a woman and Filipina, and support the mission and purpose of advancing Filipina women in the legal field.

She says there are many professional development conferences, but Pinay Powerhouse is unique because it specifically focuses on “creating and owning space for Filipina women to support each other to succeed in the legal profession, and advocate for Filipino American interests.”

Kayla Ganir, a senior at Seattle University and Kamehameha Schools graduate, talked about how Pinay Powerhouse II conference gave her much needed inspiration.

“Ever since I was a child, becoming a lawyer has been my dream. I have no attorneys in my close family relations, and very few friends who are also interested in law. So I’ve found myself feeling alone.

She said the support she received from PP2 gave her the self-confidence she needed to validate and affirm her ambitions. “I no longer feel alone. I feel capable. It was overwhelmingly inspiring to witness the success of so many powerful Pinay attorneys who have achieved that which I only dream of achieving.

“I have a community that will support and lift me up when I feel hesitant and intimidated. PP2 couldn’t have said it better: there needs to be more women of color in the law profession,” said Ganir.

A few of the esteemed past speakers of Pinay Powerhouse conferences include Nani Coloretti, highest ranking Filipino American in the U.S. federal government during the Obama administration as the Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; and Lorna Schofield, first Filipino American in the history of the U.S. to serve as an Article III federal judge.

Another Executive Committee member attorney Rebecca Gardner also attended Pinay Powerhouse 2 in Los Angeles, California. “I took a leap of faith to attend the conference. I was nervous. I was not sure if I’d be accepted. I’m an ‘other’ -- only half Filipina. And my brand of being a lawyer is not typical. I didn’t know if I was wasting my time and money - and worried that I would walk away feeling inadequate -- an outsider.

“To the contrary. I was embraced, with open arms, by this amazing, intelligent, eclectic, energetic, effervescent, beautiful, and inspiring group of women. And to feel a sense of belonging with these ‘sisters-in-law’ -- who all wanted to see me succeed -- along with every other attendee of this conference, it was all just so empowering.”

Gardner said she grew up in a very Caucasian rural area. “No one knew what I was exactly, nor could they find the Philippines on the map. I trudged the path through law school and became a member of the Hawaii and New York State bars. I faced the challenges that these identities bring. It meant so much to see and know that I was not alone, and that I was supported.

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