The Allegheny County Bar Association is combining its gender and diversity initiatives, and has named a new director to oversee both.
Alysia Mercedes Keating, 43, a lawyer who formerly handled securities, mergers and acquisition deals for firms in New York City and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., became director of diversity and gender equality on Thursday.
The bar association's Institute for Gender Equality launched in 2009 and until now has been run on a contract basis by Linda Hernandez, a lawyer with Downtown firm Dickie McCamey & Chilcote. The diversity initiative was formerly overseen by Gene Harris, a lawyer whose consulting company specializes in human resources issues.
After seven years away from the practice of law, during which her family relocated to Pittsburgh and she focused on raising her three children, Ms. Keating said she was ready to return to work when she stumbled on a notice about the job online. "It was something of great interest to me. I'm a woman, and I'm Hispanic. I really wanted to learn more about it."
Besides her perspective as a female and a minority, Ms. Keating also brings the experience of working in prominent, urban law firms. She was a shareholder when she left the Fort Lauderdale office of Akerman Senterfitt and before that, an associate in New York of Morgan Lewis & Bockius and Baker & McKenzie.
"I was a lawyer in large firms and a shareholder in a large firm," she said. "So I understand the financial concerns and obligations law firms have to deal with, and ... economics and politics, which are some of the things that drive what firms do when it comes to gender equality issues."
Further, "I've been a working parent. I know what it's like to find a good work-life balance particularly in a law firm setting."
The gender equality institute evolved after a 2005 bar association membership survey found there was little or no improvement in salaries and working conditions for female lawyers over a period of 15 years. The program aims to narrow the wage gap, boost the number of female partners and improve law firm culture through education and programming.
Ms. Keating expects to continue initiatives aimed at both male and female decision-makers at law firms and law practitioners. An upcoming seminar, for instance, will focus on "gender speak," or differences between men and women in the law firm culture, she said.
"The only way to close the gap and effect positive change is to act and continue to educate the legal community about these issues. We hope by empowering women we can reduce the gender gap. But certainly the programs are designed for both men and women."
Though her Fort Lauderdale firm was "pretty progressive" and willing to help with the issue of juggling her practice with her family, she said. "I did have trouble, particularly in the type of work I did.
"Mergers and acquisitions is deal driven. So when you have a deal going on, you can't leave. Deals go late into the night or into vacation. If there were times I could work at home, I did that. ... But law firms still have an issue of face time. That's difficult to get around and can make it difficult for women or anyone, or might need a more flexible schedule."
On the diversity side of her job, Ms. Keating wants to continue a summer clerkship program that recruits minorities, and focus on minority recruitment and retention with the Homer S. Brown Law Association, which includes African-American lawyers, the Hispanic and Asian lawyers committees, and the Women in the Law Division.