What Is It Like Being A Woman In the Legal World
As part of Women’s History Month, I wanted to honor the women I know and respect in the legal world by highlighting their voices. I asked them to write about their experiences as women in various legal careers.
Kicking off this series is my friend Judge Aliyah Sabree, a Detroit native who currently sits on the bench in her hometown as Michigan’s first African American Muslim woman judge. She is the great granddaughter of Daily Elliot, a prominent civil rights pioneer in Michigan. Making history is in her blood. This is her story.
What Is It Like Being A Woman In the Legal World?
Simply put…challenging yet rewarding.
As a new lawyer, there were times when I walked into meetings with other male attorneys/professionals and it was common for them to ask me to make coffee or copies…without hesitation.
Naturally, I would have no problem making copies for someone because I’m a team player. But, certain men (and women who were accustomed this practice) needed to understand that I was not their administrative assistant, employee, intern/law student, etc. I was a colleague. I was an attorney just like them. So after about three more times of it happening to me, my response became, “no.” The men started making their own coffee and copies. But had I not said anything, I probably would still be making coffee.
Unfortunately, women tend to be called “bitches” or overly aggressive when we are assertive, confident, and not easily intimidated, and I’ve been called that before. But, I’m not. I speak confidently, I am firm in my decisions, I give input on my thoughts, and when I disagree about something, I let it be known, respectfully. So, at times it has been very frustrating and challenging when all I want to do is my job.
I cannot ignore the fact that I am also Black and a Muslim woman and one of the youngest judges in MI right now. So along with battling sexism, I also face racism, bigotry, and ageism. It amazes me that in 2019 I am the first Black Muslim Woman judge in the State of MI. It also makes me proud to know that I can inspire a whole demographic of young women who have never imagined that they could be judges too.
While on the bench, I have had instances where some male attorneys were not too happy to see a young black “girl” telling them what to do. Instead of being insulted by it, I always just smile, do a remarkable job, and continue to serve the people of Detroit who voted for me.
I am pretty sure that any woman in the legal field can share a sexist story or experience. I have even had to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, and it was very eye-opening for me to see how women need to be more supportive of each other. During this “me too” era, I think there has finally been a shift in the way men treat women. It hasn’t solved all the issues, but it has brought awareness and has caused some men to think twice before doing something that would otherwise be offensive and humiliating to a woman.
Through all of my experiences and obstacles as a young, Black, Muslim, woman attorney in a male dominated field, I have to give credit to so many of the men who recognize women for their talents and treat us with the respect we deserve. I also must give credit to my parents for raising me to always shoot for the stars no matter how many people try to kill your dreams. I must also thank my great-grandmother, Daisy Elliott for teaching me so much about politics, public service, and professionalism at a very young age. She was a state legislator and civil rights activist and was most recognized for authoring the landmark Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1977. I was fortunate to have parents and grandparents who pushed me and showed me what it meant to make your mark in this world.
So, as I navigate through my judicial career, I will always remember to uplift and mentor young attorneys and especially women who may need a little reminder that their value and worth should never be downplayed because of gender (religion, age, or race). Women are the backbone of our society, and we can never forget that.
BY : HONORABLE JUDGE ALIYAH SABREE OF THE 36TH DISTRICT COURT