Hilarie Bass on the Challenges Women Face in the Workplace & Shattering the Glass Ceiling

By Patricia Tortolani | May 1, 2019 | People

Incoming chair of the University of Miami Board of Trustees and founder of the Bass Institute for Diversity and Inclusion, Hilarie Bass, has shattered every glass ceiling in her way. For that and more, she joins our list of Miami "Women of Influence."

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You recently stepped down as copresident of the powerhouse Miami legal firm Greenberg Traurig. How did being based in Miami shape your career?
HILARIE BASS: I have always believed that being a young professional in a fast-growing, diverse and cosmopolitan city like Miami significantly enhanced my career. When there is an ever-expanding amount of work to be done, the ability to deliver quality service and meet your clients’ needs becomes much more important than your gender, ethnicity or the country club of which your grandfather was a member.

Have you had a glass ceiling and/or glass ceiling-shattering over the last 37 years?
HB: I think all women in male-dominated fields inevitably face a ‘glass ceiling.’ At some point you can’t help but notice that the higher up the ladder you go, there are fewer and fewer people who look like you.

Tell us about your tenure as president of the American Bar Association.
HB: It provided me with an array of amazing experiences: from consoling mothers separated from their children at the McAllen, Texas, detention center to testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, to speaking to the prime minister of Vietnam about legal ethics, to creating new programs focused on lawyer wellness. One of the most compelling initiatives I oversaw was our research work on why women are leaving the legal profession. It was those startling research results that led me to decide to create the Bass Institute for Diversity and Inclusion.

Yes! Please tell us about it.
HB: The Bass Institute is focused on counseling C-Suite executives on what they need to do differently if they truly hope to achieve higher levels of women in leadership in their organizations. Additionally, I am spending a lot of time speaking to women executives about honing their leadership skills to assist them in advancing up the corporate ladder.

Why do you think we are still talking about the challenges women face in the workplace?
HB: We now recognize that we all have unconscious biases that affect our ability to be completely objective in analyzing people who are different than we are. These biases help explain why decisions relating to hiring, evaluation, compensation and elevation are not as objective as we assume they are. Until we can ensure objectivity in evaluations, women are going to find it more difficult to achieve success in maledominated fields.

As chair of the University of Miami’s Board of Trustees, what will some of your priorities be?
HB: To ensure that we help educate and train the next generation of great leaders. Students graduating from college today face a very different future, and our university must be at the forefront of providing them the experience, education and guidance to address those unique challenges.

What is your advice to the next generation of ‘Women of Influence’?
HB: I would tell the next generation of women that their goals can be limitless, but that they must have the resilience to adapt to the inherent challenges and disappointments they will inevitably face along the way.

Click here to see our full list of "Women of Influence."



Photography by: PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARY BETH KOETH; SHOT ON LOCATION AT SWAN AND BAR BEVY