Alumni News

January 9, 2019 at 11:48 am

Dahlberg Delivers Keynote: ‘The Matriarchy is Coming: On Mothering and Big Law’

Ashley Senary Dahlberg , portrait

Ashley Senary Dahlberg

by Kristin Distel

The Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies program welcomed home several of its alumni for the annual Reunion and Roundtables event, featuring a keynote address, several panels, and a reception.

The keynote address, “The Matriarchy is Coming: On Mothering and Big Law,” was delivered by Ashley Senary Dahlberg (’07), an attorney who graduated from OHIO’s Honors Tutorial College with a combined B.A. and M.A. in Political Science, in addition to a certificate in Women’s Studies.

Dahlberg currently practices commercial litigation with Norton Rose Fulbright, one of the world’s largest law firms.

“The more times I say aloud the title of my talk, the more I believe it,” she remarks, adding that she didn’t fully understand the complexities that women face in the law profession, especially in large firms, until she herself became a working mother.

Dahlberg notes that she owes “a great debt” to Dr. Julie White, who advised Dahlberg’s thesis, titled Deconstructing the Tszuj: Metrosexuality in Relation to Gender and Sexual Binaries.

“I have great memories of that project,” White stated, “and it is a great pleasure to welcome Ashley back to campus to discuss the work of political and gender justice.”

Addressing Discrimination in the Legal Profession

“Women are evenly represented in law school but not at all among top partner positions in law firms,” she noted, adding that “Actual change among partnerships has been painfully, almost glacially slow.”

Dahlberg explains that there has been a significant increase in the number of female attorneys who sue their employers for gender discrimination—law suits that largely accuse firms of excluding from decision-making processes.

“Women should not be required or expected to sue their employers in order to be heard. That is not a large-scale solution, and that is not my message today,” Dahlberg emphasizes.

She adds that some of the challenges female attorneys face include how to succeed in law firms that were “designed by men for men,” and how to negotiate the expectation that “women will perform uncompensated care work around the office.”

Women face a particularly difficult set of expectations when deposing people, Dahlberg noted.

“We’re forced to ask ourselves, ‘Am I being feminine enough? Am I being masculine enough?’ It took me a long time to learn how to litigate like myself, not like a male attorney or male partner for whom I work,” she added.

Filing a Motion for Parental Leave

Dahlberg helped usher in change for her fellow female attorneys when she filed a motion for an extension (a leave) when she was expecting a child. She notes that the extension was granted by Judge Garcia, the same judge who struck down a marriage ban in Texas. In her motion, Dahlberg argued that all women’s rights to give birth a child and heal properly would be affected if her motion were denied.

“It was like requesting a permission slip to have a child, and even though the motion was granted, I had to give away work to male attorneys while I was on maternity leave,” she stated.

‘I Want to Support Women’

Dahlberg now serves on the Board of Directors for the LEAD Academy, a mentorship program for female attorneys’ in Bear County, Texas. The program helps teach women how to draft self-evaluations and how to speak with those in authority, in addition to connecting new female attorneys with more experienced ones.

“I’m building a very specific, skilled choir,” Dahlberg stated. “We’re coaching women on how to develop skills and relationships that will benefit their careers in the long-term. There are so many smart, capable women who have so much to offer this profession. I see you, and I want to support women,” Dahlberg concluded.

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