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Women in the Law

Legal reporter Nina Totenberg answers the question: When have you been the only woman in the room?

Posted Apr 30, 2013 7:48 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Early in her career, NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg was working in a man’s world.

Totenberg recalls that era in response to the question, “When have you been the only woman in the room?” NPR reports.

“When have I been the only woman in the room, are you kidding me?” Totenberg answers. “Like the first 20 years of my career.” Totenberg answered the question as part of an NPR series called “The Changing Lives of Women," How Appealing reports.

Whether she was covering the Supreme Court, the White House or Congress, Totenberg says, she was the only woman doing the work, or one of just a few women. That has changed, she adds.

Totenberg's first piece of advice for women who are lacking female counterparts is to try to bolster the numbers.

“Take as your example Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Totenberg says, who found herself the only woman on the Supreme Court after the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. According to Totenberg, Ginsburg kept saying: "I'm the only woman here; I sometimes get treated in a way I haven't been treated in years; people go around the table and I have something to say, and nobody reacts, and then a half-hour later some man says the same thing and everybody says, 'Oh what a good idea.' "

Now there are three women on the Supreme Court. "So my first piece of advice is get another woman in the room," Totenberg says. "And my second is demand respect. You should get it. You don't have to be a man to get it. You don't have to be a flirt to get it. Just be yourself and if it's not working for some reason, just say so."

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