Pinay Powerhouse conference celebrates and empowers Filipina women in the legal world

LOS ANGELES — In an era of harassment, especially for women and people of color, a group of Filipina lawyers are using their voices to empower others.

All rise for some of the most accomplished women on both sides of the bench.

About 150 women, mostly Filipina lawyers from throughout the country, gathered in LA for the second annual Pinay Powerhouse conference.

“Bringing us all together not only lets us see each other, hear each other, it lets us realize we exist and we are a force, and together we can bring about positive change in this world,” said co-chair Zathrina Perez.

These ladies say the legal profession continues to be a sector dominated by white males — a mold they hope to break through three days of networking, conferences, and hearing from some of the most successful Filipinas in the legal realm.

“Our numbers are low, and I know the studies show that not a lot of Filipina people want to go to law school and we want to be role models and mentors for them,” said Abigail Zelenski.

Those role models included the few Filipina judges, including history-making federal judge Lorna Schofield.

The Pinay Powerhouse conference not only celebrated the achievements of women in the judicial system. It also dug deep at some of the biggest legal issues that women are facing today.

Among the topics were sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement.

“We can’t be bystanders,” said Toni Jaramilla. “And we need to speak up and step up, if harassment or assault or any kind of bias is happening; we have to be part of the movement to stop it whether its to stand up against it or report it or not be silent anymore.”

With a male-dominated industry, Filipina lawyers say that harassment and intimidation also happens in the legal realm.

“There’s particular pressures on women, and there are particular ways as women in the law we can help bring about change,” said Cherisse Cleofe. “So it’s important to recognize its prevalent even in our own industry and to know what kind of issues to watch out for and let women step out, speak up and make our place in the movement.

With more women empowered, and also rising through the ranks of the legal and judicial system, they believe the culture is shifting, breaking the silence, and shattering the glass ceiling.


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