"You Uniquely Belong"
2022-2023 President Kathryn Starnella
Dear CWBA Members,
What does it mean to belong?
As kids, it might have meant having a group to eat lunch with at school or being anything but the last pick for the battle ball game in gym class.
For me, as a child in Wisconsin and the daughter of a woman from Trinidad in the West Indies and a man from Uruguay in South America, belonging meant finding common ground amongst differences, while celebrating individual uniqueness. My parents taught me that lesson of belonging on the many occasions I wanted to fit in, be less “other,” and be like the cool kids.
As adults, our need for belonging has morphed and matured, yet it comes from the same basic human need we had as kids to connect to people and to be part of something larger. American psychologist Abraham Maslow recognized it as a core need when he placed it in the middle of his Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, situated above “physiological” and “safety” needs and below “esteem” and “self-actualization” needs. Through genuine belonging, we can be our truest, authentic selves and realize our full potential.
Forty-four years ago, CWBA’s founding president, Natalie Elwood, and our founding mothers established and led the CWBA to change the legal profession so that all women could truly belong in this profession, on equal footing as men—with at least the same amount of respect and regard.
Drawing on the impetus for CWBA’s founding, my chosen theme for 2022-23 is You Uniquely Belong. To uniquely belong means to know the unique, valuable perspective that one brings to the table through authenticity.
As I shared at our annual Convention last month, there are four components to this theme. These components will shape and drive our work this year and the ways we serve you, our members and draw in new members.
First, we must know that we belong in the legal profession and any space within the profession that we want to occupy. While women have made great strides in the legal profession, the pandemic and the Great Resignation highlight the many ways that women do not feel like they belong. While the American Bar Association has studied the pandemic’s impact at the national level, we want to understand the pandemic’s impact on women and non-binary attorneys here, in Colorado. Therefore, as president, I will ask the board for authorization to commission a study of women and non-binary lawyers in our state. And, I will ask the CWBA Foundation to support and partner with us on that effort.
This data will help us determine how we can more effectively promote the advancement of women and non-binary people in the law.
Second, women of diverse backgrounds—including trans women and non-binary people—must know they belong in the CWBA. As an organization, the CWBA has made great strides with diversity, equity, and inclusivity. The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee was launched in 2019 and the Inclusion Officer role was added to the Executive Committee in 2021. Together they identified goals to promote and increase DEI and have been executing plans to achieve those goals. As a result of their efforts, the 2021-22 board was the most diverse in the CWBA’s history, the 2022-23 board is even more diverse, and I am the first woman of color to lead the organization since the early 2010s. However, we must do more so that more women of various backgrounds, perspectives, and life paths will find themselves at home in the CWBA and place themselves in the leadership pipeline.
Third, our chapter members must feel a greater sense of belonging in and support from “big CWBA,” the mothership. Our chapter members, especially those outside the metro-Denver area, often feel like they are part of satellite organizations and somewhat disconnected from CWBA, the mothership. As President, I plan to visit each of the chapters and to organize a CLE, networking event, or pro bono event around my visit. Also, I will work with the board to identify ways to provide supplemental financial support for the chapters.
Fourth, we must ensure that women know they are equal citizens under the law. While the CWBA worked hard to ensure that the Reproductive Health Equity Act became law, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs opinion calls upon us to fight to preserve and strengthen what remains of our right to bodily integrity and self-determination. We must guard against broader attacks on our privacy rights—our right to make intimate and personal choices that are central to our personal dignity and autonomy. We must ensure that the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to us in all respects and gives all women, including trans women, individual autonomy. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said during her confirmation hearing in 1993, “the State controlling the woman is both denying her full autonomy and full equality with men.” Through our public policy and advocacy efforts, we will fight for that full autonomy.
Many other things also call upon us to remain vigilant: blogosphere talk of a #MeToo Backlash; the virtual stoning of Amber Heard and the consequent silencing of domestic violence victims; threats against public officials, especially women; rampant misogyny by some politicians; threats to our democracy; and so much more. The long list can wear one down.
If you feel discouraged and defeated, muster up the strength to channel those feelings into positive, productive energy. Our Public Policy committee needs your help now more than ever. Also, our monthly On What Grounds series led by President-Elect Emma Garrison provides a live, on-line forum for members to connect and talk about whatever is on their minds. And, our award-winning 1891 blog provides members a venue to write about, think about, and exchange ideas on a range of subjects, from heavy to light. As Michelle Goldberg stated in a recent New York Times opinion piece, “[w]hen feminism is most alive, it helps women articulate things they’d been unable to say and makes them feel less alone”; it allows women to “talk[ ] about the truth of their lives[.]” CWBA is your home and your place where you can authentically belong, in the truth of your life.
These are some of the many ways the CWBA will recognize, celebrate, and empower the unique, valuable perspective that each one of us brings to the table through authenticity. And, of course, we will continue to provide you with meaningful opportunities to connect with each other, receive CLE credit, and to advance in your career.
I am honored to serve as your President this year. The CWBA is an extraordinary organization in this community.
I am proud of its impactful work of promoting the advancement of women in the legal profession and under the law, increasing the number of women on the bench, and increasing the number of women who hold positions of authority and influence. And I am proud to be a member of this vibrant organization, full of so many resilient, uniquely successful women.