Not surprisingly, Kamala Harris’ precedential election as the first woman of color Vice President has spawned countless opinion pieces on how Harris’ win has inspired both women and girls nationwide, altered the future of women in politics and demonstrated the value of real diversity. But there’s a spin that most of the media has missed – specifically, how the Biden-Harris partnership serves as a role model for professional partnerships between men and women.
Think about it. To date, our reference point for professional partnerships typically starts with a brotherhood. Think Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Google’s co-founders. Steve Jobs and Woz (Apple), Bill Gates and Paul Allen (Microsoft) (indeed, the list of male partnerships in tech goes on and on – but they’re not limited to tech. Think about the Obama-Biden bromance or the unlikely duo of dudes, David Boies and Ted Olson who teamed up to establish a constitutional right to same sex marriage at the Supreme Court.
By contrast, there are no comparable examples of male-female partnerships where the team isn’t married – such as Barack-and-Michelle or Bill-and-Hillary, or the numerous tech companies launched by a husband and wife. Moreover, any prospects for a male-female partnership were utterly quashed over the past four years with idiots like former Vice President Pence and “mother” who believe that unmarried men and women should never dine together alone.
Although in law, men and women have worked together for decades, the relationships are far from equal. When a man and women lawyer represent a client, the man nearly always argues in court. And though men and women are at least theoretically, equal partners in large law firms, the pay is anything but, with female partners earning an average of 24 percent less than their male counterparts.
Women who own law firms aren’t entirely exempt from the disparate treatment. I’ve found that when clients make the call on a team lead, women – myself included – are often picked. But when judges or other committees decide, male owned firms still dominate – such as in lucrative class action cases where women are rarely chosen as lead counsel.
As Biden and Harris prepare to take office, they have an opportunity to show both the legal profession and the world what a productive, successful male-female partnership looks like. So far, in my view, Biden is doing a good job. For example, Biden gave Harris an opportunity to speak on the night their win was secured – even though I can’t recall past vice presidents under Trump, Obama, Clinton or Bush allowing their second-in-command to do the same. And thus far, Harris has been included as part of national security briefings and selection of transition team members.
What’s more, Biden doesn’t have to do any of this. After all, as President, he is superior to Harris and doesn’t need to allow her any input at all. The fact that Biden has managed to treat Harris as an equal even when technically, she is not serves as an even more powerful statement to law firms and judges.
As lawyers, most of what we do isn’t impacted by who holds the presidency. But the culture established by those at the top has trickle-down implications for all sectors, including legal. Here’s hoping that the Biden-Harris team paves the way for more productive and equitable male-female partnerships in the law.